A preliminary assessment of the progress of the USA's next-generation air transport system (NGATS) has found the US Federal Aviation Administration is failing to provide the expertise required to complete the transition from the ageing national air traffic control system.

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) says the FAA should consider passing control of the ATC upgrade and operational responsibilities to at least one third party, allowing the agency to circumvent the "challenges in institutionalising recent improvements in its management and acquisition processes, as well as in obtaining the expertise and resources necessary to implement NGATS".

A main concern for the GAO is the inability of the Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO), a multi-agency department within the FAA created by the US Congress in 2003 to co-ordinate the transition to NGATS, to appoint either a permanent director or a permanent chairman of its senior policy committee.

"Despite early successes, JPDO may have difficulty continuing to leverage its partner agencies' resources and expertise for NGATS because these agencies have missions and priorities in addition to NGATS, and JPDO does not yet hold signed, long-term agreements with the partner agencies on their roles and responsibilities," says the GAO.

The GAO says the FAA should consider the involvement of a "lead systems integrator", or at least the help of "federally funded research and development corporations" to assist it in overseeing prime contractors.

"FAA officials indicated that they are considering at least these two approaches to help address any possible gaps the agency may have in its technical expertise," adds the GAO.

Source: Flight International