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FAA Needs To Do A Better Job At Mitigating Effects Of Major System Disruptions
January 11, 2017 - The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) operates a vast network of facilities and communication, navigation, and surveillance equipment for managing air traffic throughout the United States. In recent years, the FAA has experienced several major system failures that required individual air traffic control facilities to declare “ATC-Zero,” which means the inability to provide any air traffic control services.

In response to a congressional request, DOT’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted an audit on FAA’s ability to manage air traffic control disruptions that arise in the National Airspace System. OIG found that while the FAA has taken steps to improve the effectiveness of its operational contingency plans, significant work remains.
The FAA’s air traffic facilities are not fully prepared to respond effectively to major system disruptions, in part because the Agency lacks the necessary training for its controllers and the required redundancy, resiliency, and flexibility for its key air traffic control infrastructure.

Many of the new technologies and capabilities that can improve the continuity of air traffic operations will not be available for years, and the Agency’s procedures for updating contingency plans remain incomplete.

While the Agency has established new requirements for transferring airspace and air traffic control responsibilities to other facilities, those plans are not ready to be fully implemented. The FAA also does not have an effective method for sharing operational contingency plans and lessons learned with its internal and external stakeholders.

The Agency concurred with all eight of OIG recommendations to improve FAA’s ability to respond to air traffic control disruptions. Recommendations to the FAA;


1) Develop and implement a policy requiring annual contingency plan training for en route and terminal controllers that includes procedures for managing airspace divestment and the loss of communications and/or surveillance capabilities.

2) Develop and implement an internal control to test and certify the function of emergency equipment, including power-fail phones, flashlights, and other communication equipment at all air traffic facilities semiannually to ensure the equipment operates as intended.

3) Convene NextGen program officials to evaluate, expedite, and complete a report on how planned NextGen capabilities can enhance the resiliency and continuity of NAS operations and mitigate the impact of future air traffic control disruptions.

4) Establish a process and requirement to validate airspace divestment plans annually to ensure the plans can be executed and technical requirements are up-to-date based on current technology.

5) Develop airspace divestment plans for oceanic airspace, and develop and implement the technical requirements needed to support all new plans.

6) Update the Automated Contingency Tool (ACT2) or develop and implement a new automated tool that complies with FAA Order 1900.47 to collect, manage, and disseminate operational contingency plans and lessons learned documentation to all air traffic facilities.

7) Establish a process for developing baseline contingency metrics, analyzing contingency trends and root causes, and annually disseminating the results to Air Traffic Organization personnel.

8) Develop a procedure to include aviation industry stakeholders in post-contingency events at the FAA Command Center to discuss lessons learned and explore possible solutions to mitigate the impact of future air traffic disruptions.


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