Bugs in a computer system that is part of a multi-billion dollar air traffic control overhaul may further delay the already behind-schedule project, the U.S. Transportation Department announced. The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) $2.4 billion En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) project is already $300 million over budget and four years late, Bloomberg reported.
The ERAM project requires more than 900 software fixes, which could add another $200 million and a two-year delay beyond the current 2014 completion date, Transportation Department Inspector General Calvin Scovel told a House aviation subcommittee, according to Bloomberg. Acting FAA chief Michael Huerta told the committee that bugs are to be expected in any computer system and that he believes the project will be completed on schedule.
ERAM is intended to replace a 45-year-old computer system in use at the 20 U.S. centers dedicated to directing planes during the high-altitude cruise portion of flights, Bloomberg explained. Controllers will be able to track 1,900 aircraft at once, up from 1,100 currently, and process data from 64 radar sites, up from 24 now. The system is part of the FAA’s broader NextGen project, a system overhaul that will provide more precise aircraft tracking via satellite and create efficiency gains in the airline system. NextGen is expected to cost government and industry $42 billion through 2025.
Need for improvement
Deployments of other NextGen technologies have run into delays as well, Bloomberg noted. An August 1 FAA task force report suggested that airlines could save fuel if the agency created more direct flights into busy metro areas. Of 136 proposed streamlined flight routes, however, only three have implemented new techniques so far.
According to some observers, the air traffic control system needs a software overhaul, with a renewed cybersecurity focus. A recent TechNewsDaily article identified air traffic control systems as one of the greatest cybersecurity threats facing the country, noting that security researchers have successfully spoofed aircraft signals on NextGen’s aircraft tracking system, ADS-B.
As the FAA moves ahead with introducing new air traffic control systems, ensuring that software runs glitch-free and does not present a security risk will be top priorities. In government organizations, where budgets are tight and spending is under heavy scrutiny, meeting these expectations without creating added expense is particularly important. Tools such as static analysis programs can help organizations catch coding errors, minimize software security issues and avoid costly delays.
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