The Real Reason for the ERAM Rush

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…

4 comments

  1. As far as HOST maintenance is concerned the FAA is in the midst of a large multimillion parts buy for the 9672-G3 Host computers. The contract is actually with IBM through Lockheed, the parts get injected directly into the IBM parts system and get distributed across the country. The contract with IBM becomes labor only, FAA supplies the parts. It is used now for several pieces of the Host system and there is really no difference between maintenance with parts and labor or labor only.

    The last world wide parts survey indicated there was about a 5-year supply of parts for the Host computer systems. Problem with such a large parts buy is it cost big $$ that has to come out of someones budget and it’s unplanned which tend to draw attention. Of course the biggest concern the FAA has the target dates can only slip so far before they have to officially slip the schedule and there goes the performance bonus. Not only for the FAA managers but also Lockheed, that’s the issue, Host maintenance is minor in comparison.

    All of this isn’t about ERAM, NexGen, ADS-B or Host parts, its all about money, always has been always will be. We’re not nicknamed the “Tombstone” agency for no reason!

  2. Thanks for that information, George!

    We’ve heard vague discussions about the contractor performance bonuses for ERAM, but it would be interesting to see specifics about them.

    Is Lockheed still meeting their performance deadlines right now even with the delays?

    From past history, it appears the contractors are pretty savvy about the contracts they sign with the FAA. And big government contractors like Lockheed Martin know all the angles.

  3. Interesting to note, that they use the two least-busiest conus US centers to impelement ERAM. They did a similar thing when URET was installed. By the time it got to my center, a whole host of new problems were discovered, because my center used more pref routings than any other center; hence, it was REALLY screwed up at first. It still isn’t where it should be, after almost 9 years now. We still have problems with pref routings not working correctly with URET. I fully expect the same kind of apathy when we get ERAM. We’ll just have a list of “work-arounds” like ZLC has right now with it.

  4. To answer your question the of the other day.

    In general most contracts with multiple delivers and thereby dates, like ERAM have performance incentives built in. It’s an archaic system left over from WWII on cost plus fixed fee contracts. The government needed material for the war effort so incentives were included in the contracts. The incentives portion as well as cost plus fixed fee still lives in government contracts today.

    So as it pertains to ERAM; For B-level testing Lockheed was paid for a 60 percent pass rate. Since ERAM fell well below the 60 percent figure Lockheed and their lawyers got creative with the contract language. They were able to manipulate the pass rate by using a “NO TEST” NT category for test ERAM flat out failed. A second method employed was having tests categorized as “Working as Designed” WO so they actually were well below the pass rate of 60 percent but were paid in excess of a million dollars. You referred to people being under pressure to pass items that were obviously wrong, this is why. If they were one test case away from a million dollar performance bonus and you refused to sign certifying that the test meant a “Passed” criteria they found some else to sign. All of this had to be agreed to someone in the FAA program office, someone signed the change of criteria.

    Another incentive area is IOC, when ZMP ran for 3 or 4 hours Lockheed was paid 1.2 million, that’s specially spelled out in the contract. Running from 1 am to 4 am on a Saturday morning with maybe a few hundred or less high altitude tracks isn’t a very high bar to have to clear for 1.2 million.

    I’m not a contracts persons there maybe one that reads the blog but I have talked to enough to know there will be tremendous pressure for ERAM to be a “Go” whether it is ready or not.

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