The FAA is frantically trying to get its new ERAM computer system into use at its first two enroute test facilities (as well as a third, supplemental test facility).
They’re in the midst of an eight day test now with live traffic at Salt Lake Center (ZLC).
Regardless of what the FAA is telling the press, ERAM is behind schedule, and falling further behind every day.
Its own NextGen Commitments and FY09 Work Plan had ERAM running at 6 of the 20 centers in 2009, and at the remaining 14 in 2010. Has anyone noticed the date on the calendar lately?
Part of the big rush to get ERAM into use in spite of its problems is because the FAA is getting to the end of its support contract for the current HOST computer system with its contractor, Lockheed Martin Transportation and Security Solutions (LMTSS).
This contractor bid from the FAA online here, dated April of 2008 states:
<snip> Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Air Traffic Organization – EnRoute (ATO-E) is issuing this public announcement to inform industry of the intention of the FAA ATO-E to extend current Second-Level Maintenance activities for the Host Computer System (HCS) on a single-source basis…<snip>
and (my emphasis):
The HCS is being replaced by the En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) system. The current JRC waterfall schedule for full ERAM deployment and replacement of HCS is to be completed by 12/31/2010. However, issues involving the Offshore Flight Data Processing System (OFDPS) at the Honolulu Control Facility (HCF), IBM hardware architecture, and general risk mitigation planning in case of ERAM waterfall deployment slippage, have increased the probability of the HCS being a viable FAA system after the current ERAM waterfall schedule date. Therefore a five (5) year extension that includes five (5) one (1) year option periods, to 9/30/2013 is contemplated.
So it appears the FAA put out a bid for HOST support up through 2013.
Additionally on the FAA’s own website it says (my emphasis):
The FAA can only maintain the Host Computer hardware through 2012, after which operational availability and maintainability will be at risk.
So it’s likely that the FAA has support for the current HOST computer system through 2012 or 2013.
However, keep in mind if that’s true then ERAM must be up and running at all the center facilities across the country by that time at the very latest. That gives them less than three years. After that the FAA doesn’t have a plan.
And you can sense their panic starting to build.
Right now they’re still testing ERAM in a relatively controlled and sterile environment, at facilities with lower traffic densities and other controls in place.
Although that makes sense to start, it’s essentially a “rigged” test.
It also has the potential to lead to FAA managers gaining a false sense of confidence in the system. And given that confidence, it’s likely that those same managers will thereby believe that ERAM is ready for wider deployment.
At the end of ZLC’s 8 day ERAM test, I’m sure that given the FAA’s past history, if no one got killed, they will claim everything went swimmingly, regardless of how many problems they actually had.
Already last year the controllers helping with some of the ERAM testing reported getting pressure from the contractor to downgrade the severity of the bugs in the system.
In less than three years the FAA has to have ERAM running at all the 20 centers in the country, so they need all the help they can get.
The clock is definitely ticking on ERAM. Just like on a big bomb…