US DOT to investigate Free Flight

Washington DC
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Fearful of delays and cost overruns, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) has launched an audit of the FAA's Free Flight program.

The DOT's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) will perform the week-long inspections, which will look for "problems with costs, scheduling, software development and human factors," the OIG says.

"Historically, the FAA has had problems with complex software system acquisitions leading to schedule delays and cost overruns," says Alexis Stefani, the OIG's deputy assistant inspector.

"Also, as evidenced by the human factors problems with the Standard Terminal Automation System (STARS), early and continued involvement by pilots and controllers is essential when implementing new technologies."

Stefani says OIG will also evaluate the FAA's Free Flight program office, which was created to manage the entire, multi-billion-dollar Free Flight effort. The OIG will inspect FAA headquarters, regional offices, airports and contractor facilities, it says.

Last month, software troubles led the FAA to delay the first phase of its WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System), intended to improve GPS navigational accuracy, by more than a year.

The original July 1999 commissioning date was pushed back to September 2000, after problems arose with the system's crucial correction and verification software.

The FAA says the delay should give it time to fix the problems, while also providing an opportunity to make changes based on an "independent GPS risk assessment" just released by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

The Hopkins report supports the FAA's view that augmented GPS can meet the USA's air navigation needs, though the changes it calls for are likely to result in additional costs and delays, the FAA says.