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ERAM will be $330M over budget and not ready until August 2014

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Inside the FAA NextGen Integration and Evaluation Capability air traffic control suiteEn Route Automation Modernization, a radar-based tracking system of high altitude flights that's a key part of the Federal Aviation Administration's air traffic control modernization effort, won't reach nationwide operational readiness until August 2014 and will cost $330 million more than expected, a FAA spokeswoman said Jan. 19.

Asking not to be attributed, the spokeswoman said in an interview that the FAA has accepted the conclusions of an Oct. 15, 2010 Mitre study that calls a May 2010 internal FAA plan to delay final ERAM rollout until January 2012 "unrealistic."

FierceGovernmentIT obtained the Mitre report (.pdf) through a Freedom of Information Act request (.pdf).

The spokeswoman said the agency will follow Mitre recommendations, which call for staggering a determination of ERAM operational readiness at the 20 continental U.S. air route traffic control centers in three waves with three-month "risk gaps" between them. The roll out schedule will cause a budget shortfall of $330 million, the report adds. Operational readiness for ERAM means that the system has fully supplanted the legacy system, which can be disconnected from even backup use.  

"Air traffic controllers are already using ERAM to handle traffic 24 hours a day in Salt Lake City and Seattle and testing at other facilities continues to go well," the spokeswoman added.

ERAM, primed by Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT), replaces a three-decade old system called Host. The new system, which the FAA once intended to have functioning nationally by the end of 2010, should allow planes to reduce their separation range down to three miles and air traffic controllers to track 1,900 planes rather than the Host maximum of 1,100. ERAM is also an enabler for a slew of air traffic control modernization efforts collectively known as NextGen. Transportation Department Inspector General Calvin Scovel has recently warned that problems with ERAM "will have a cascading effect on FAA's NextGen efforts."

Report authors blame delays in the project on "deficiencies in project oversight, stakeholder coordination, and resource commitments, and from insufficient discovery of software problems in ERAM's operational test environment, resulting in releases of software at key sites that have not been ready for sustained operational use."

According to the Mitre report, FAA officials realized that ERAM would be late and presented to FAA Administrator Randy Babbit in May 2010 a "corrective action plan" that called for final ERAM operational readiness in January 2012.

Report authors heap scorn on the plan presented to Babbit, however. "With few details and no supporting data or rationale for the proposed actions and revised schedule and budget, it could not be considered a comprehensive plan," the report states.

The report also faults the FAA for not having followed best practices for information technology contracting, such as having settled on the scope and cost ceiling of work called for in a contract line item number before embarking on that work.

For more:
- download the Mitre report (.pdf)
- go to a FAA fact sheet on ERAM and a fact sheet on NextGen

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