IG: FAA mismanaged weather system

The Federal Aviation Administration has been its own worst enemy on the Integrated Terminal Weather System program, according to the Transportation Department's inspector general.

Poor planning and changing requirements have pushed the project behind schedule and over budget.

'The amount of software that was developed changed, and the hardware configuration dramatically changed,' said Bill Marberg, director of business development at Raytheon Co.'s Air Traffic Management Systems division, the contractor developing the system.

Although the agency originally expected to finish deploying the weather system at 38 locations this year, it will not finish until June 2008, nearly five years behind schedule, according to a report from the Transportation IG.

At $1.1 million per system, production costs are three times higher than expected. The original figure was $360,000 for six initial installations.

ITWS is intended to help air traffic managers make safer and more efficient air traffic decisions in bad weather, the report said.

The system integrates data from multiple sensors into a single display. It presents a 20-minute forecast of weather conditions in the terminal area and helps traffic managers allocate airport and airspace capacity.

With better forecasting, traffic managers could more accurately tell when to open and close runways, change runway configurations, and reroute arriving and departing air traffic.

'FAA cannot execute the program as planned within the existing budget and schedule, and as a result, FAA plans to extend the deployment schedule,' the report said.

When the IG's December report blasted the mismanagement of the project, the agency didn't argue.

'We generally agree with all the report recommendations,' said Rebecca Trexler, a spokeswoman for FAA. Because of lack of funding and increasing costs, deployment of ITWS equipment had to be delayed to keep the program within funding limits, she said.

The report said FAA missed the mark on cost projections for the project, forcing it off schedule.

In spite of the rain

FAA is evaluating the ITWS deployment schedule. 'We anticipate that a revised deployment schedule, which considers the integration of the convective weather forecast, will be available this spring,' Trexler said. The convective weather forecast feature provides a 60- rather than 20-minute window, which improves the flow of departing airplanes in bad weather.

FAA has installed ITWS systems at operational sites in Atlanta and Miami, and at support sites in Dallas, Memphis, Tenn., New York and Orlando, Fla.

Six more in Baltimore-Washington, Chicago, Houston, Kansas City, Kan., New York and St. Louis, are expected to be completed by the end of fiscal 2003.

The contract with Raytheon to develop and implement ITWS was awarded in January 1997. FAA planned to invest $286 million through fiscal 2008 to field 38 systems to support 108 air traffic control towers, terminal approach control facilities, en route centers and support facilities. The plan included funding through fiscal 2009 for system enhancements.

The prototype systems have been well received by air traffic managers because they give an accurate display of current and forecasted weather conditions that was previously not available, the report said. But the addition of extra features has driven up the price of the production units.

'It's unfortunate the FAA doesn't do a better job estimating what it's going to cost to do these systems,' Raytheon's Marberg said.

After getting feedback from users of the prototype system under development, FAA added more features, such as integrating data sources into the display, which boosted the cost and stretched out the delivery time.

The agency invested $179 million of the $286 million budget in the system prototype.

The remaining $107 million will not be enough to pay for system engineering, testing, contract support, more than 50 planned enhancements and other costs, the report said.

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