Report: FAA faulted for problems in telecommunications upgrade

Delays are eroding cost benefits, inspector general warns

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.”

Alves said that until the FAA develops a realistic schedule and effective transition plan, it will be difficult to hold the FTI contractor accountable or determine when the FTI transition will be completed. In addition, the FAA can't accurately estimate how long Verizon’s LINCS services will be needed until it has a realistic schedule, he said. To account for the delays to date, the FAA will have to exercise its one-year option to extend Verizon’s contract to support the LINCS services but may also need to retain Verizon’s services for a longer period, he said.

The FAA had disconnected only about 3% of the legacy circuits by the end of fiscal year 2005 and had accumulated a large backlog of uncompleted work, the report said. As a result, the FAA lost out on $32.6 million in reduced operating costs, the report said.

“Additionally, unless FTI service cutover and legacy circuit disconnect rates accelerate substantially, the estimated cost savings for FY 2006 of about $102 million is also at risk of not being realized,” Alves wrote.

Alves recommended that the FAA take the following measures:

  • Develop a realistic master schedule and an effective FTI transition plan.
  • Develop a transition plan with all affected parties to avoid further schedule delays and outages to air traffic operations.
  • Modify the FTI contract to require that Harris send its monthly program management information reports to the FAA for the fixed-price elements of the contract.
  • Validate FTI cost, schedule, and benefit information to ensure that the FAA’s FTI investment is still cost-effective.

    Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

    It’s time to break the ChatGPT habit
    Shop Tech Products at Amazon