Friday, July 01, 2011

ERAM 7-1-11

I bumped into a couple of controllers this week. I didn’t have time for a discussion with either but when you mention ERAM, they just shake their head. It’s a open secret that no one wants to talk about -- the program is in trouble. And, it’s in the news. From Aviation International News:

The Dark Side of NextGen

”Unfortunately, several of NextGen’s ongoing development efforts also remind some of us of another movie, the one that brought us the Dark Side of the Force.

Regrettably, the implementation plan omits mentioning the ongoing delays and cost escalation in several of NextGen’s more advanced  systems, typified by those currently experienced with its $2.1 billion en route automation modernization (Eram) program, a foundational NextGen building block, upon which much of the eventual NextGen structure will depend.”

A billion dollars just ain’t what it used to be. The disaster known as the Advanced Automation System only wasted $2.5 billion. That was big money back then. Before ERAM is over, I bet it will be big money too.

”Because NextGen is a “system of systems,” Eram’s problems don’t happen in isolation, and they have a domino effect on other major programs–such as ADS-B, data communications (DataComm) and system wide information management (Swim)–that have already been allocated more than $500 million for Eram integration. Further, the IG pointed out, FAA documents acknowledge that Eram delays will affect development of trajectory-based operations and the planned transition to a common terminal and en route automation platform, while prolonged delays could affect future software enhancements estimated to cost $1 billion. ”

As you might be noticing by now, this article doesn’t have the usual cheerleading tone of most NextGen articles. I’ve been down this road before. You see, the Advanced Automation System once seemed promising and exciting too. Before it became known as “the greatest failure in the history of organized work.

The article goes on to discuss NextGen at great length. It’s good. You ought to read it. But it finally comes back to ERAM.

”The increasing pace of technology advance makes forecasting difficult and major government investment decisions even more perilous. On the other hand, if those new systems are anything as complex as Lockheed Martin’s Eram (still mired in software development problems after eight years and not expected to be operationally ready for another three), then we are already running late, even before we’ve announced what the future system is going to be.

But here, the planners have given the FAA and its budget masters a break. The estimate to complete all NextGen projects and accomplish full fleet equipage has previously been estimated to be on the order of $40 billion. Not long ago, the JPDO advised the GAO IG that full fleet equipage by 2025 would raise the stake to $160 billion.”

I believe $160 billion meets today’s threshold for “big money”.

I hate quoting myself. I really do. But it does save time.

”Don Brown, Ex-controller and current nobody

”No one is going to reinvent air traffic control. ATC evolves. Slowly.”"

If the FAA had forgone the “big bang” method of trying to transform ATC -- first with AERA, then the Advanced Automation System and now with NextGen -- and instead pushed for constant, steady improvement -- we’d probably already have NextGen. But that’s like saying if they hadn’t fired most of their workforce and 25 years later pushed thousands into retirement...

Don Brown
July 1, 2011

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