National Airspace System: FAA's Approach to Its New Communications System Appears Prudent, but Challenges Remain Page: 4 of 27
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Accountability * Integrity * Reliability
United States General Accounting Office
Washington, DC 20548
July 15, 2002
The Honorable John L. Mica
The Honorable William O. Lipinski
Ranking Democratic Member
Subcommittee on Aviation
Committee on Transportation and
House of Representatives
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) uses radios to provide air-
ground voice and data communications for pilots and air traffic controllers
to safely coordinate all flight operations-ground movements of aircraft at
airports, take-offs and landings, and separation distances between aircraft
as they cruise at high altitudes. However, the anticipated growth in air
traffic, coupled with FAA's efforts to reduce air traffic delays and
introduce new air traffic services, will create a demand for additional
channels for voice communications that FAA's current system cannot
provide. FAA is implementing a new communications system to respond
to this challenge and also seeking to enhance its existing ability to transmit
data to provide more information to pilots, reduce errors in voice
communications, and better balance controllers' workload. Moreover,
FAA expects that its new system should be less susceptible to interference
from such sources as power lines and radio and television stations and
also improve security against unauthorized users. FAA is developing
products to use with its future integrated voice and data communications
system. FAA refers to the initiative to acquire this system as Next
Generation Air/Ground Communications (NEXCOM) and estimates that its
long-term funding commitment for this initiative could reach $4 billion
through fiscal year 2023.
Because voice and data communications are critical to air traffic
management, you asked us to determine (1) to what extent the existing
voice and data communications system used by FAA can effectively meet
its expected future needs, (2) what FAA has done to help ensure that the
technology it wants to use for NEXCOM will meet its future needs, and (3)
what major issues FAA needs to resolve before it can make a final decision
on the technology it wants to use for NEXCOM. To address these
objectives, among other things, we interviewed and analyzed data and
documentation from FAA program officials, experts in communications
from the Department of Defense and the National Aeronautics and Space
GAO-02-710 FAA's New Communications System
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United States. General Accounting Office. National Airspace System: FAA's Approach to Its New Communications System Appears Prudent, but Challenges Remain, report, July 15, 2002; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc290543/m1/4/: accessed December 12, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.