FAA moves forward with ERAM as scrutiny mounts

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The US Federal Aviation Administration plans to roll-out its En Route Automoation Modernisation (ERAM) project to six sites by year-end as its execution of the scheme continues to draw criticism from government watchdogs.

A cornerstone of FAA's NextGen air traffic control system, ERAM improves the processing of flight data by including a larger number of radar systems to allow controllers to track 1,900 aircraft compared with current limits capping that number around 1,100.

During Congressional testimony on 5 October FAA deputy administrator Michael Huerta stated the agency's goal is to roll-out ERAM software to six sites by year-end. FAA's first live test of the system was conducted at the agency's Salt Lake City Air Route Traffic Control Centre.

Lockheed Martin is the primary contractor for the ERAM programme, which was originally planned for completion by the end of last year.

But software snafus have continually dogged ERAM. Joining Huerta at the Congressional hearing the Inspector General of the US Department of Transportation (DOT) Calvin Scovil stated the problems include errors that display flight data to the wrong aircraft and hand-off problems between controllers at other facilities.

Due to the software glitches controllers at key sites have been forced to rely on workarounds including re-entering flight information for aircraft multiple times, which Scovil warned increases workloads.

Scovil concluded the workarounds pose a risk of data entry errors and divert controllers attention away from their primary tasks of managing and separating aircraft.

"Problems with ERAM functionality are of particular concern at sites that have complex and congested airspace such as the Chicago and Los Angeles centres," said Scovil. "The airspace at these locations is divided into smaller and more heavily congested sectors that do not allow controllers time to use workarounds to compensate for ERAM's deficiencies."

The Inspector General uncovered similar problems on FAA's Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System, which shares the same tracking software with ERAM.

After expressing concern to FAA regarding ERAM, the agency is working with Mitre to assess the ERAM tracker, said Scovil.

Pointing to comments made by FAA officials that ERAM is the chassis of NextGen, Scovil quipped the chassis "might be at park". However, he did acknowledge the agency has attempted with great speed to fix the programme's problems.