UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY OFFICE
What GAO Found
Aviation industry stakeholders GAO interviewed described various factors that may affect the interoperability of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen)—a complex, long-term initiative to modernize the U.S. air-traffic management (ATM) system—with other countries’ ATM modernization efforts. Interoperability allows different ATM systems and procedures to accept and use each other’s information and services for technical or operational purposes. One factor described by 17 of 25 stakeholders that could affect achieving global interoperability, which, in turn, can affect NextGen’s interoperability efforts, is the ability of key stakeholders, particularly air navigation service providers (ANSP) from different countries, to agree on the desired outcome of ATM modernization efforts. Stakeholders also identified several conditions that could affect when international standards are developed and when nations can implement ATM modernization efforts. For example, government and industry resource constraints could delay countries’ modernization efforts and thereby could delay the interoperability of NextGen with other systems.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) developed an international strategic plan in 2014 to guide internal efforts for coordinating and executing NextGen’s global interoperability and other international activities. This plan and other supporting documents demonstrate, to varying degrees, five of the six characteristics of an effective strategy that GAO has previously identified. For example, FAA identified organizational roles, responsibilities, and coordination mechanisms and is developing activities and performance measures to achieve global interoperability. However, FAA lacks a mechanism for comprehensively identifying and assessing risks and for prioritizing resources to manage NextGen’s interoperability risks, such as those resulting from the factors identified by aviation industry stakeholders GAO interviewed. According to FAA officials, potential risks to NextGen’s interoperability are identified and assessed through working groups; however, FAA has not conducted a comprehensive risk assessment or analysis of threats and vulnerabilities specific to NextGen interoperability. Without a more comprehensive approach to assessing and managing risks, FAA is not well positioned to ensure that its strategy effectively mitigates all potential risks to NextGen’s interoperability or to prioritize resources toward actions that will manage and mitigate those risks.
In addition to internal coordination efforts, FAA coordinates with the European Union and other foreign ANSPs on the global interoperability of their ATM modernization efforts through various mechanisms, such as through bilateral agreements and participation in regional and international working group forums. This coordination has resulted in efforts that further global interoperability, including agreement on a framework for developing global technology standards and conducting a demonstration of worldwide flight-information sharing. For example, FAA and European Union officials continue to collaborate to support the International Civil Aviation Organization’s efforts to update the Aviation System Block Upgrades, which are designed to be consistently applied by View GAO-15-608. For more information, countries and regions around the world to help achieve interoperability.
What GAO Recommends
GAO recommends that FAA conduct a comprehensive assessment of risks to NextGen’s global interoperability and identify how this information will be used to mitigate risks and prioritize resources. In responding to a draft of the report, FAA agreed with the recommendations and discussed some of its ongoing risk assessment activities.
About the United States Government Accountability Office
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress. Often called the “congressional watchdog,” GAO investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars.