An information-sharing program essential to government plans for a new national air traffic control system is about $105 million over budget and has been delayed two years, a government watchdog said Thursday.
The first phase of the Federal Aviation Administration program known as System-Wide Information Management, or SWIM, was supposed to be complete by 2013, but has now been pushed back to 2015, according to a report by the Transportation Department's Office of Inspector General.
The FAA is in the midst of switching from an air traffic system based on World War II-era radar technology to one that uses GPS. The transition that is expected to take more than a decade to complete and cost government as much as $22 billion. The cost to the airline industry to equip their planes to use the new system is likely to be nearly as much.
Key to that transition is a program to share information, including which airports are experiencing delays, which runways are closed, weather reports, pilot observations, flight plans and security restrictions on where planes can fly. The idea is to create a one-stop place for FAA employees, the military, other government agencies, airlines and the international aviation community to get real-time information.
In the long-term, the new air traffic program is expected to save FAA and other users money through greater efficiency.
However, the program hasn't been well managed, the report said. The FAA office that runs SWIM doesn't have authority to set standards and deadlines for the seven other programs that SWIM depends on for information, it said.
One of those seven programs _ a computer system that enables air traffic controllers to direct planes flying at high altitudes and convey information about flight plans _ has run into technical problems that have also caused delays and cost overruns.
"The FAA must take steps now to establish clear accountability and authority for SWIM's implementation. Otherwise, the program will be left without an overall blueprint or achievable end state," the report said.
FAA officials, in comments included in the report, agreed with the inspector general's findings. They said they had already begun working on the report's recommendations. FAA Deputy Administrator Michael Huerta has been placed in charge of resolving SWIM's problems. The office responsible for SWIM has also been given some authority it previously lacked.
The nation's air traffic system handled nearly 800 million airline passenger trips last year, but more than 1 billion trips a year are forecast in the next decade. The FAA's plans to handle that growth depend on replacing the current radar-based system so that planes can fly more direct routes and closer together, as well as land and takeoff more frequently. Officials say that will save time and money, as well as reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
Federal Aviation Administration www.faa.gov
Department of Transportation Inspector General www.oig.dot.gov