ERAM Problems No Longer a Secret

In spite of the FAA’s attempts to keep their ongoing problems with their En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) program under wraps, there are those that have taken notice.

The Department of Transportation Inspector General (DOT IG), Calvin L. Scovel III, testifed before the House Subcommittee on Aviation on April 21st, 2010, about the status of the FAA’s entire NextGen project, including ERAM, stating that (my emphasis):

The $2.1 billion ERAM program will replace the existing hardware and software at facilities that manage high-altitude traffic.  ERAM,  however,  is experiencing software-related problems at FAA’s key initial operating site in Salt Lake City.  These problems include radar processor failures, problems in handing off traffic between controllers, and critical flight information being paired to the wrong aircraft.  FAA is spending about $14 million per month to resolve these problems and deploy ERAM at other sites.

and

While FAA does not believe the system to be fundamentally flawed, it has postponed the in-service and operational readiness decisions for ERAM at Salt Lake City by 6 months, both originally planned for December 2009.   We have not assessed the severity of the problems with ERAM,  but FAA officials are concerned about the ERAM transition at larger, more complex sites like Chicago and New York.  These locations have unique airspace and operational issues that will require adaptation of the system’s software to accommodate their needs.

And finally:

FAA  officials acknowledge that it is unlikely that all  20 systems will be fielded nationwide and controlling traffic on a regular basis by December 2010 as planned. FAA must take steps to ensure that problems with ERAM are resolved and make realistic adjustments to the program’s schedule.

You can see the entire DOT IG’s testimony here (which also discusses significant problems with other FAA projects, including the FAA’s Telecommunications Infrastructure/FTI program.)

Instead of simply re-releasing the warm and fuzzy press releases from the FAA on ERAM as news,now the media is  finally starting to report what’s really going on with the ERAM project.

Notably, the IG admits that they are trusting FAA officials to large degree about the details of the ERAM problems, as they admitted they didn’t actually examine the “severity of the problems with ERAM”.

There are many within the FAA that think the program is going just fine in spite of the problems, and while the “FAA does not believe the system to be fundamentally flawed” that may or may not be true.  Right now there seem to be some fundamental problems with tracking aircraft within the ERAM system.

The IG also suggested that the FAA must “make realistic adjustments to the program’s schedule” and “ensure that problems with ERAM are resolved” neither of which the FAA was previously willing to do by its own accord.

Doesn’t this sound a lot like trusting the fox to guard the hen house?

None of it really bodes well, because if the FAA and Lockheed Martin can’t get ERAM working at Salt Lake Center, and they know it’s going to require adaptation for the busier centers elsewhere in the country, how long will it really be until ERAM is actually ready for nationwide use?

FAA officials apparently admit “concerns” about the ERAM transition, but will the FAA choose to start using it again on live traffic before it’s ready regardless?

I’m betting they will, simple because they willingly and knowingly have already done that.

2 comments

  1. Keep up the good work. It must feel pretty lonely being one of the very few writing about ERAM failings. When is NATCA going to start acting like they are concerned with the safety of the flying public? You should be writing about NATCA press releases and studies (oh, that’s right, there are none), not DOT IG reports. How long can he FAA hide this fiasco?

  2. Please keep up the good work, you write very well and aren’t a “bomb thrower” but simply provide the facts without the rhetoric. Even we in EnRoute have a difficult time finding out what is really going on with ERAM. Your skilled writing from the controllers prospective is very much appreciated and helps us sift the truth from the propaganda.

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