Porcari: FAA could have better managed ERAM
In retrospect, the Federal Aviation Administration should have handled the development of En Route Automation Modernization software differently, John Porcari, Transportation deputy secretary, told a Sept. 12 House panel.
"In hindsight, we would have brought in our workforce from day one to help us develop it," he told the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on aviation. "That was, in my opinion, a large part of the problem," he added--referring to $330 million in cost overruns and a 3 year and 8 month delay in implementation of the $2.4 billion program.
ERAM replaces a three-decade-old long-range radar tracking system known as HOST. According to Porcari's written testimony (.pdf), ERAM operates "in some capacity" at nine of the 20 air route traffic control centers and is the primary high altitude airplane tracking system at five of those centers.
"Some capacity," according to FAA employees speaking on background, in some cases is limited to turning the system on during low traffic hours while continuing to use the legacy HOST system as the primary control software. ERAM is now scheduled for initial deployment to the 11 additional centers by the end of this fiscal year and the FAA says the system will achieve nationwide operational readiness by 2014.
Some air traffic controllers at air route traffic control centers where ERAM is running say they are not impressed, with the anonymous author of the ATC Freqs blog complaining of bugs, including "vector wobble." That's when lines controllers draw on screens to indicate aircraft position within between 1 and 8 minutes, "a critical tool for keeping airplanes separated," are inaccurate due to ERAM calculations, causing an airplane on a screen display to appear to deviate from the vector line.
"I noticed that I was distracted several times believing an aircraft was flying a bit off course based on its vector line, only to see it correct itself. It's not something that happens much in HOST," writes the blog author, who says he is an en route center air traffic controller in Minneapolis-Saint Paul.
"The 'bug sheet' containing the major bugs for ERAM and their mitigations looked very similar to the last ERAM bug sheet," he added, also stating that ERAM lacks some basic functions that HOST possesses, such as aural warnings when new messages arrive.
In prepared testimony (.pdf), Transportation Department Inspector General Calvin Scovel told the committee that users have identified more than 900 "high priority software issues that need to be addressed."
During the hearing, Michael Huerta, the acting FAA administrator, said ERAM has recovered from past mistakes. "I think we have turned the corner on that program," he said.
- go to the hearing webpage (prepared testimonies and webcast available)