Air Transport World

Budget cuts threaten ATC system overhaul. (air traffic control system)

Budget cuts threaten ATC system overhaul

Most of the news about the Federal Aviation Administration's modernization of air traffic control system hardware is good. Major systems needed to assure computer capacity capable of handling expected air traffic densities into the next century are on track. Likewise, other equipment and system development is progressing and, considering the scope of the effort, is reasonably close to the schedule announced in 1982 (ATW, 6/82).

The bad news concerns deficiencies of money and controllers. First, the delays that have occurred in transforming the National Airspace System Plan into reality have been largely money problems. It's not that the program is costing more than expected. In fact, the price paid to date is about what was forecast four years ago in the NASP budget. Some things have cost a little more than expected, FAA officials say, but other purchases have been cheaper than predicted.

The problem is FAA hasn't been able to get what it needs from Congress and the Reagan administration, despite the availability of billions of dollars lying unspent in the Aviation Trust Fund. To date that financing shortfall has been merely a hindrance, delaying some aspects of the NAS Plan a year or two.

FAA Administrator Donald Engen told ATW he has been juggling his sparse budget to keep the existing system properly financed. "You might say I've mortgaged the distant future to preserve the operational capability of 1986-87."

But, given the aims and mechanisms of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit reduction bill and a proposed FY 1987 budget that further reduces NAS Plan spending to a cumulative total of $1.5 billion, that money squeeze can get a lot worse before it gets better, jeopardizing major portions of the program. …

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