Problems for ERAM continue to mount

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Officials from the US Department of Transportation's (DOT) Inspector General's office are warning FAA's en route automation modernization (ERAM) program continues to experience challenges is its development, and FAA now estimates it will need an additional $70 million in fiscal 2011 to correct problems with ERAM.

Lockheed Martin is working with FAA to develop ERAM, which is designed to boost air traffic flows by processing data from a larger number of radar systems and allowing controllers to track 1,900 aircraft compared with current limitations of 1,100.

The Inspector General (IG) in a recent letter to members of the US Congress outlined significant software problems during initial ERAM testing at the FAA's Salt Lake City Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC).

Among the problems cited by the IG were errors in tagging flight data to the wrong aircraft, radar processing failures, and hand-off problems between controllers.

The IG also explains that FAA and Lockheed Martin now plan to add new capabilities while attempting to resolve problems in earlier versions of software to support ERAM.

"This is a watch item because updated software releases at the key site have exhibited new problems, and caused recurrence of old ones," the IG explains.

In March of this year executive vice president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) Patricia Gilbert warned that a high number of workarounds were being used to deal with less critical glitches in ERAM and stressed that overall several critical problems remained unfixed.

Estimates supplied by the IG show FAA has spent roughly $1.8 billion on ERAM, and is now spending roughly $15 million per month to field the system. "FAA originally planned to spend $131 million in fiscal year 2011," says the IG. "But now estimates that it will require an additional $70 million this year to correct problems with ERAM."

FAA is currently finalizing schedules and cost estimates to complete the ERAM programme, but the work of the IG and studies by the Mitre Corporation "suggest it will take between three to six years and as much as $500 million more to complete the effort", the IG states.