IG: FAA Oversight of ADS-B System at Risk

 - August 15, 2011, 7:30 AM
An ADS-B ground radio station in Boca Raton, Fla., stands as one of 794 due for installation nationwide by 2013. (Photo: ITT)

The U.S. Department of Transportation appears unconvinced that the FAA can adequately monitor the contractor-owned automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) program–a supposed model of public-private partnership.

In an audit report August 4, the DOT’s Inspector General said the FAA risks “losing long-term visibility into system performance” of ADS-B and other systems underpinning the Next Generation Air Transportation System. Under the ADS-B contract awarded to ITT in August 2007, the FAA owns the surveillance data generated by the system, and the system design and configuration. ITT owns the ground infrastructure of radio stations that transmits data to FAA ATC facilities, expected to number 794 by 2013. Last year the company started offering some tracking and flight data produced by the system for sale, as allowed by FAA guidelines.

The FAA revised its certification procedures in 2007 to clarify that only agency-owned or maintained systems must undergo certification, the IG said. For ADS-B, it developed a Surveillance and Broadcast Service (SBS) to monitor the operation of equipment at individual radio sites. The agency planned to deploy some 20 monitors, but because of cost constraints it ultimately installed just two systems, at the FAA Technical Center in Atlantic City, N.J., and Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City. “There are risks with this oversight approach,” the IG said, noting that current SBS monitors generate more data than FAA staff can analyze.

ITT is implementing a remediation plan after an 11-hour ADS-B outage in the summer last year affected air traffic over the Gulf of Mexico and disabled the SBS monitor, the IG said.

John Kefaliotis, ITT vice president of Next Generation Transportation Systems, insists that the ADS-B program epitomizes a successful public-private partnership. He said ITT has met all milestones in the four years since winning the contract from the FAA, having invested $200 million in the effort.

“I would assert that the public-private partnership model delivers substantial benefits,” he said. “First of all, the infusion of private-sector capital makes the program much more affordable for the government agency in the face of tight budgetary constraints. Secondly, the approach to infrastructure deployment dramatically reduces the cost and schedule risk associated with the program.”