FAA Declares New En Route Automation System Is Operational

 - April 30, 2015, 1:59 PM
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx addresses an audience at Washington Reagan National Airport as FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, r, watches. (Photo: Bill Carey)

The Federal Aviation Administration has finished installing a computer automation system that substantially improves the efficiency and capacity of its high-altitude, en route ATC centers. Thirteen years in development, the $2.48 billion en route automation modernization (Eram) system now operates at the 20 air route traffic control centers in the U.S., the agency announced on April 30.

The FAA awarded Lockheed Martin a contract in 2002 to build Eram, which replaces the 40-year-old Host computer system en route centers used to manage air traffic above 10,000 feet. “As of today, Host is history,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta declared during a press conference the agency held at Washington Reagan National Airport in suburban Virginia. “We have shut it off. We have decommissioned it, and Eram is the only system that we [are using] to control air traffic.” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx accompanied Huerta in making the announcement.

Originally scheduled for completion in 2010 at a cost of $2.1 billion, Eram was plagued by software problems and delays, leading the FAA to “rebaseline” or recalculate, the program schedule and cost in June 2011. Before the rebaselining, the system was operating at only two centers in a test capacity, Huerta said. Lockheed Martin, the FAA and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (Natca) have said they then started to collaborate more closely to see Eram through to completion.

“We did some innovative things with implementing Eram that worked very well,” said Julio Henriques, Natca’s national Eram implementation representative. “For example, all 20 en route centers across the country involved in Eram were in the same room at the same time for meetings and strategy. This national user team included 20 Natca representatives and their FAA management counterparts as well as other stakeholders. This is the first time that has happened with any project.”

The rebaselined program called for completing the system in August 2014 for an additional $330 million. Huerta said the budget reductions Congress imposed through “sequestration” in 2013 delayed the program’s implementation by another seven months and added $42 million to the overall cost. “But we did hit the milestones that we laid out when you adjust for that,” he added. “We’re very proud that we were able to, through the collaborative process, bring the system on line.”

In addition to the 20 en route centers, the FAA has also installed Eram at its ATC academy in Oklahoma City, Okla. The system connects with terminal radar approach control facilities and airport towers, as well as the FAA’s command center in Warrenton, Va., automated flight service stations and agencies including the departments of Defense and Homeland Security.

According to the FAA, Eram increases from 1,100 to 1,900 the number of aircraft controllers can track, extending coverage beyond their facility boundaries. The Eram tracking function processes target reports from multiple radars, whereas Host had a single radar tracker, and also processes automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) aircraft position reports.

By sharing and coordinating information across enroute centers, controllers can reduce aircraft separations from five miles to three miles, the FAA said. Eram also generates 4-dimensional flight trajectories, which add time to the three spatial dimensions, to improve controllers’ situational awareness and promote more efficient routing of flights.