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Report: FAA faulted for problems in telecommunications upgrade

Delays are eroding cost benefits, inspector general warns

By Linda Rosencrance
May 2, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The Federal Aviation Administration’s project to upgrade its telecommunications network is falling behind schedule, and the delay may be eating away at the project’s expected cost benefits, according to a report by the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The purpose of the project, known as the FAA Telecommunications Infrastructure (FTI) program, is to replace seven telecommunications networks owned and leased by the FAA for use by air traffic controllers to communicate with pilots. The networks would be replaced with a single network operated by Melbourne, Fla.-based Harris Corp. that would cost less to operate, wrote Theodore Alves, principal assistant inspector general for auditing and evaluation, in the report released last week.

The FAA awarded the five-year, $1.7 billion project to Harris in July 2002. The contract was revised in December 2004 to $2.4 billion through 2017. The new system is expected to go live in December 2007, according to the report (download PDF).

The agency estimated that the FTI project would save it $820 million in reduced operations costs by 2017.

“However, expected benefits from reducing operating costs are eroding because of schedule problems,” Alves said in the report.

In response, the FAA has recognized the problems and is committed to taking steps to get the FTI back on track, according to a statement in the the report.

The largest and costliest network to be replaced is the Leased Interfacility National Airspace System Communications System (LINCS) formerly operated by MCI WorldCom but now run by Verizon Communications Inc. FTI is considered a mission-critical program because its network will carry the National Airspace System’s telecommunications services, which include voice and radar, for air traffic control operations, according to the report. These services are carried on the LINCS network. When completed, FTI will consist of about 25,000 telecommunications services at more than 4,400 FAA sites, the report said.

Alves said the FTI is a “high-risk” and “schedule-driven” program that is unlikely to meet its December 2007 revised completion date. In fact, only months after being revised in December 2004, the program again began falling behind schedule and has not recovered, he said.

“FTI is not likely to be completed on time because the [FAA] did not direct the program office to develop a detailed realistic master schedule or an effective transition plan identifying when each site and service will be accepted, when services will be cut over to FTI, and when existing services will be disconnected,” Alves said. “Further, the program office needs to ensure better coordination with its field offices and with Verizon in order to ensure that service disruptions are avoided when services are transitioned to FTI.”

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