FAA’s Air Traffic Chief Pledges Execution of Capital Programs

 - October 17, 2011, 2:10 PM
David Grizzle, the new head of the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization, addresses the Air Traffic Control Association conference earlier this month. (Photo: Bill Carey)

The man assigned to head the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization (ATO) following several incidents involving sleeping air traffic controllers said he is “intensely focused” on executing major capital programs that have caused concern among federal oversight agencies. In a recent speech, David Grizzle, ATO’s chief operating officer, also described FAA-wide structural changes designed to streamline the powerful, but fractious, agency.

Grizzle, formerly FAA chief counsel, accepted the assignment to head the ATO in July, three months after Henry “Hank” Krakowski resigned over several highly publicized incidents involving controllers sleeping on duty. The ATO carries responsibility for operating the U.S. ATC system. With a Fiscal Year 2012 request of $7.65 billion, the organization commands nearly 80 percent of the FAA’s $9.82 billion operations budget.

In a speech earlier this month at the Air Traffic Control Association conference in National Harbor, Md., Grizzle said he is concentrating on completing “very sound” programs, some of which have drawn criticism from the Department of Transportation inspector general. “Am I spending significant time revising or developing new long-term plans? No. I’m intensely focused on increasing the probability that we will fulfill all of our current commitments,” he said. “I am focused on improving the ATO’s execution capability.”

The largest commitment involves the $2.1 billion En Route Automation Modernization (Eram) program to replace the computer system connecting 20 FAA air route traffic control centers. According to the DOT IG, the program is running four years late and hundreds of millions of dollars over budget.

“This isn’t necessarily a failure of money. This is a failure of management,” U.S. Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said during a hearing on October 5. Grizzle said developers must introduce 200,000 additional lines of software code to the system and complete 18 more en route centers before anyone can consider Eram operationally ready.

The FAA has established a new program management office combining 125 capital programs, including Eram, into one organization, Grizzle said. “The earlier thought was that by putting the programs with the operating units they most closely served, there would be better integration between program and operations,” he said. “We have seen, however, that in a world where program interdependency is so critical, leaving programs in their operating silos defeats integration. By placing them all under one umbrella, we can do a better job of managing all of them in a way that better serves the entire enterprise.”