Air Traffic Control: Inadequate Planning Increases Risk of Computer Failures in Los Angeles

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-07-16.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

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GAO                          Report to Congressional Requesters

                             AIR TRAFFIC
                             Inadequate Planning
                             Increases Risk of
                             Computer Failures in
                             Los Angeles

                   United States
GAO                General Accounting Office
                   Washington, DE. 20648

                   Information Management and
                   Technology Division


                   July 16,199O

                   The Honorable Frank R. Lautenberg
                   Chairman, Subcommittee on Transportation
                     and Related Agencies
                   Committee on Appropriations
                   United States Senate

                   The Honorable William Lehman
                   Chairman, Subcommittee on Transportation
                     and Related Agencies
                   Committee on Appropriations
                   House of Representatives

                    In I988 the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) started a project-
                    the Southern California Terminal Radar Approach Control (TFWON) pro-
                   ject-to consolidate four TRACONfacilities in the Los Angeles basin area
                   by 1996. These facilities control aircraft arriving at or departing from
                   airports in the area. FAA believes this consolidation will help it provide
                   better service in the basin’s congested airspace. Because of the problems
                   FAA has encountered in providing automation support for its large ter-
                   minal facilities, you asked us, on December l&1989, to assess the
                   agency’s plans to meet the automation needs of the Los Angeles basin’s
                   terminal airspace. A detailed explanation of our objective, scope, and
                   methodology is contained in appendix I.

                   The airspace in the Los Angeles basin area, one of the most congested in
Results in Brief   the world, has experienced more near midair-collision reports than any
                   other location in the United States. Moreover, the four TFWONS in the
                   area have all previously reported computer capacity shortfalls resulting
                   in the loss of aircraft identification information from controllers’
                   screens. FAA has reacted to these shortfalls with stopgap measures
                   designed to keep current, aging systems operating.

                   Due to its lack of a computer capacity and performance management
                   program, FAA does not know if its current automation plan for the con-
                   solidated facility will meet future needs. Furthermore, FAA'S plan for the
                   consolidated facility does not allow for steep growth in air traffic,
                   involves the procurement of antiquated 1960s computer processors, and
                   assumes that an advanced system will be implemented on schedule in
                   the mid-to-late 1990s.

                   Page 1                        GAO/IMTEC9949   Los Angeles Air Traffic Control Risks

             To meet its immediate needs for additional computer capacity, FAA may
             have little choice other than to upgrade the existing systems with anti-
             quated computers. However, to meet the requirements of the Los
             Angeles basin area through the 1990s and possibly beyond, alternatives
             exist that could better meet future requirements of the consolidated
             facility. At the conclusion of our review, FAA officials acknowledged this
             and stated they were studying the feasibility of systems such as the one
             currently used at the New York TRACON. However, officials stated they
             would not consider any other alternatives that required new hardware
             or software development due to the additional time they believe would
             be required to undertake such an effort.

             From an air traffic control perspective, the airspace in the Los Angeles
Background   basin, surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and several mountain ranges, is
             extremely busy and complicated. One of the most concentrated sectors
             of air traffic in the world, the Los Angeles area has more than 6.6 mil-
             lion flights per year. The area has 21 airports, including five major com-
             mercial airports, three military air fields, and the busiest general
             aviation airport in the United States-Van Nuys Airport. The airspace
             is also complicated by the varying rules and restrictions in effect at dif-
             ferent altitudes and locations.

             The complexity and congestion of the Los Angeles airspace is evidenced
             by its high number of reported near midair collisions. From 1986 to
             1988, Los Angeles had the highest concentration of serious near midair-
             collision reports in the nation.’ Specifically, it had 67 serious near
             midair-collision reports, approximately twice the number of the next
             highest location. In August 1986, a tragic midair collision between two
             airplanes over Cerritos, California, resulted in the loss of over 80 lives.

             According to FI\A, the continued air traffic growth within the Los
             Angeles area has nearly exceeded the capacity of the present airspace.
             To help alleviate this, the agency has initiated two projects: the
             Southern California Terminal Airspace Realignment and the Southern
             California TRACON project. The realignment is designed to allow the use
             of closer air traffic separation standards by expanding the altitude
             limits of terminal controlled airspace. FAA believes this should allow
             more planes in the airspace.2

             ‘Air Traffic Control: FAA’s Interim Actions to Reduce Near Mid-air Collisions (GAO/RCED-89-149,
             June 30,1989>.
             2Aircraft Noise: Status and Management of FAA’s West Coast Plan (GAO/RCED-89-84, May 8,1989).

             Page 2                                 GAO/IMTJZG90-49 Los Angeles Air Traffic Control Risks
                       The Southern California TWCON project is designed to consolidate the
                       four TRACONfacilities in the Los Angeles basin into a single facility at
                       Miramar, California. The TRACONSinvolved are now located at Los
                       Angeles, Burbank, El Toro, and Ontario. The project, estimated to cost
                       about $114 million, involves designing and constructing a new building
                       and moving the computer systems into the consolidated facility. FAA is
                       scheduled to complete the consolidation by 1995.

                       FAA expects this planned consolidation to result in safer, more efficient
                       use of Southern California’s airspace. It believes that airspace will be
                       more effectively utilized and that air traffic controller work load will be
                       reduced because coordination of the high-volume, complex pieces of air-
                       space among a number of facilities will be reduced. FAA also believes
                       that by maintaining one facility instead of four, procedures may be
                       streamlined and management personnel may be reduced.

                       Each of the four TRACKINScurrently has a computer system, known as an
                       Automated Radar Terminal System (ARTS) IIIA, that provides essential
                       aircraft position and flight plan information to controllers. In consoli-
                       dating the four facilities, FAA does not plan to consolidate the four com-
                       puter systems. Instead, it intends to retain and enhance the ARTS IIIAs
                       used in the Los Angeles and El Toro TRACONSand combine the Burbank
                       and Ontario systems, resulting in three separate systems. FAA then
                       expects to operate these three systems until they are replaced by an
                       advanced system in the mid-to-late 1990s.

                       FAA'S lack of a computer capacity and performance management pro-
FM Has Not             gram for its large TRACONS,including those in the Los Angeles basin, has
Adequately             limited its ability to determine current and future automation require-
Determined             ments. This allowed alarming capacity shortfalls, resulting in aircraft
                       information disappearing from controllers’ screens. Although it has
Automation             begun to take some actions to address these shortfalls, FAA has not yet
Requirements for the   adequately identified its needs. Until FAA does, it will continue to react
Los Angeles Basin      to shortfalls and, in the case of the Los Angeles basin, assume a risk that
                       its automation plans for the consolidated facility will not meet require-
                       ments. This risk is further amplified by the possibility that growth in air
                       traffic could be more than currently estimated, and the fact that FAA-
                       planned upgrades are based on 1960s technology with limited perfor-
                       mance capabilities.

                       Page 3                        GAO/IMTEG9049   Los Angeles Air TmffIc Control Rtsh
FAA’s Lack of a Capacity   An effective computer capacity management and performance moni-
Management Program         toring program is important to ensure maximum use of existing
                           resources and adequate capacity for growth. Further, Federal Informa-
Prevented Accurate         tion Resources Management Regulation Part 201-30 and standard
Identification of Needs    industry practices call for agencies to perform capacity management
                           activities in planning, acquiring, and using computer resources.

                           As we reported last year, FAA lacked an effective computer capacity
                           management program at its larger TRACONS, such as the four involved in
                           this planned consolidation.3 Consequently, FAA did not recognize
                           capacity shortfalls until controllers’ ability to maintain safe separation
                           of aircraft was impaired. Almost 70 percent of the large TRACONS we sur-
                           veyed indicated that their systems suffered from one or more of the fol-
                           lowing problems: critical aircraft information disappearing from
                           controllers’ screens, flickering displays, and slow system responses.

                           All four TRACONSin the Los Angeles basin area reported that they had
                           experienced instances of aircraft identification information disap-
                           pearing from controllers’ displays. Two of the TRACONS reported that
                           data losses occurred for brief periods of time during heavy traffic while
                           another stated that problems occurred randomly. In addition, three of
                           the four reported instances of data flickering on controllers’ displays
                           and three of four indicated that system responses to controllers’ com-
                           mands were delayed.

                           To begin to address these problems, we emphasized in our 1989 report
                           that FXA needed to act quickly to ensure that critical air traffic control
                           functions were not interrupted by capacity shortfalls. Specifically, we
                           recommended that FAA (1) gather and report important capacity-related
                           data, identify quickly those TFUCONSthat had the most urgent problems,
                           and identify potential solutions to the problems; and (2) implement a
                           computer capacity and performance management program at its large
                           TRACKINS that would include analyses of present and future data
                           processing work loads to determine when system capacity would be

                           In its response to our report, FAA pointed out several actions it was
                           taking to ensure that air traffic control functions were not interrupted
                           by capacity shortfalls. For example, headquarters informed its field
                           offices that software had been developed and was being deployed to aid

                           3Air Traffic Control: Computer Capacity Shortfalls May Impair Flight Safety (GAO/IMTElC-89-63,
                           July 6,1989).

                           Page4                                  GAO/IMTEC9O49       Los Angeles Air Traffic   Control   Risks



               in determining the real-time performance of the ARTS IIIA systems at
               specific locations. Field offices were directed to begin using this monitor
               to establish a baseline on processor utilization. In addition, FAA stated
               that it had identified locations constrained by computer capacity and
               had directed these capacity-sensitive facilities to develop contingency
               plans to use when computer system demand approached effective
               capacity. Further, FAA stated that additional processors were being sup-
               plied to the three sites most in need of additional capacity.

               While these actions appear promising, the level of attention that the
               Department of Transportation and FAA have given to developing an
               overall computer capacity and performance management program at the
               large TRACONShas been disappointing. In its response to our report, sub-
               mitted almost 7 months after our report was issued-and approxi-
               mately 6 months later than required-the     Department of
               Transportation dismissed our key finding on FAA’S lack of a thorough
               analysis of short-term and long-term requirements associated with
               traffic growth and enhancements at its large TRACONS.Transportation
               stated “the Department agrees that FAA’S studies of computer capacity
               are not as formal as GAO expects; however, we believe the FAA has thor-
               oughly analyzed not only the short-term ARTSIIIA system needs . . . but
               also the long-term requirements associated with traffic growth and
               incorporation of the Mode C intruder function.“4 However, as we
               reported, FAA did not have sufficient data on current utilization to serve
               as a baseline for determining future requirements and had not ade-
               quately assessed the impact of future safety enhancements.

               FAA'S inadequate analysis of current and future requirements is evi-
               denced by its reactive approach to dealing with the capacity shortfalls it
               has faced. For example, after experiencing several system failures,
               headquarters requested that all field automation specialists submit any
               and all software modifications that they believed could increase
               processor efficiency. In addition, FAA has in some instances been low-
               ering demands on its systems by reducing the number of controller
               training displays and the length of time its systems retain flight data. In
               another case, after learning that the ARTS IIIA system at the Chicago
               TRA(=ON did not perform properly for 19 continuous hours, FAA added an
               unplanned fifth processor and developed additional software modifica-
               tions at the Los Angeles TRACONto reduce the potential for serious
               capacity shortfalls and to promote controller confidence in the system,

               4Mode C intruder is a warning to controllers that indicates that the distance between a controlled and
               uncontrolled aircraft will become hazardous within the next 40 seconds.

               Page 5                                   GAO/IMTEC90-49       Los Angeles Air Trdf¶c   Control   Risks

                           FM’S inability to foresee system shortfalls and its ad hoc responses after
                           shortfalls occurred indicate that it did not have reliable data to deter-
                           mine its current or future requirements. At the conclusion of our review,
                           FAA officials stated that they were beginning to acquire data to deter-
                           mine requirements at these TRACON facilities.

FAA’s Los Angeles Basin    Due to its lack of a computer capacity and performance management
Solution May Not Provide   program, FAA does not know if its current automation solution for the
                           Los Angeles basin will be able to meet its needs through the 1990s. Fur-
Sufficient Processing      thermore, additional risk exists that the solution may not be sufficient
Capacity in the Future     because (1) traffic growth in the Los Angeles basin area may continue to
                           exceed projections, and (2) the new advanced system to replace existing
                           TRACON systems may be significantly delayed, thereby requiring the ARTS
                           IIIA systems to operate even longer.

                           Because FAA had not collected the data necessary to determine future
                           demand for computer resources, it used another estimator-the       number
                           of instrument operations” -to project what the demand for computer
                           resources would be in future years. However, instrument operations is
                           an imprecise measure for estimating computer resource utilization.
                           While instrument operations is indicative of the demand for computer
                           resources, this estimator is not an adequate measure for predicting com-
                           puter utilization. Without knowing other information, such as the peak
                           periods of traffic and the expected distribution of increased instrument
                           operations, FAA cannot adequately predict its needs for computer
                           resources. For example, if a significant number of additional instrument
                           operations occurred during peak periods-when      computer utilization
                           would be highest-computer      capacity could be exceeded much more
                           quickly than if these increases occurred during non-peak periods.

                           To predict the need for computer resources in the consolidated facility,
                           the FAA Technical Center was tasked with determining whether the con-
                           solidated ARTS IIIA systems, with planned upgrades, could meet work
                           load demands based on annual instrument operations growth rates
                           ranging from 2.4 to 10.6 percent. Rather than using the maximum
                           growth rate of 10.6 percent, the Technical Center study elected to
                           assume maximums of 6.6,7.2, and 7.8 percent for the three automated
                           systems at the consolidated facility because the primary author of the

                           “An instrument operation represents a takeoff or landing under instrument flight rules. Aircraft oper-
                           ating under these rules must be controlled and in contact with an air traffic controller, while aircraft
                           flying under visual flight rules are only monitored by controllers.

                           Page 0                                   GAO/IMTEG9049        Los Angeles Air Traffk     Control   Risks
 Technical Center study believed that 10.5-percent growth would not
 occur in the 1990s and therefore should not be used. This official could
 not provide analysis or documentation to support his assertion that the
 10.5percent maximum growth rate was too high. Under the maximum
 growth assumptions used, FAA concluded that the upgraded ARTS IIIA
 systems would provide the consolidated facility with sufficient
 processing capacity until the year 2000.

  According to FAA, the Southern California area “has historically experi-
  enced growth well in excess of projections,” which has made it difficult
  to predict future increases. For example, in 1979 the agency predicted
  instrument operations at airports nationwide would increase at an
  annual rate of 3.9 percent through 1991. However, growth rates of
  instrument operations were very sporadic. From 1980 to 1982, the area
  actually experienced a decline in instrument operations due to a general
. economic downturn and the air traffic controller strike. Then, between
   1982 and 1987, the TRACONSin the Los Angeles basin experienced annual
  growth rates averaging 10.6 percent. Between 1987 and 1988, the most
  recent years for which data are available, instrument operations in the
  basin area grew by 4.8 percent. However, according to FAA, several
  upcoming developments, such as new terminals under construction at
  the Ontario, Burbank, and Orange County airports, “are likely to force
  traffic increases in the Los Angeles basin area.” Given the above and the
  conservatism that should be built into safety-related assumptions, it
  may be risky to assume that a high rate of growth will not occur in the
  basin area.

 If the study had utilized the maximum growth rate of 10.6 percent, it
 would have concluded that the tracks capacity of the Los Angeles TRACON
 system alone would become saturated in 1993-2 years before the con-
 solidation is due to be completed. This scenario also assumes that
 planned interim upgrades and additional capacity would be provided at
 the Los Angeles TRACON.

 In addition to these risks, the schedule for the advanced systems to
 replace terminal automated systems later in the 1990s is slipping. Less
 than a year after beginning work on the contract, the contractor-Inter-
 national Business Machines Corporation-and       FAA announced a 13-
 month delay in the first component of the advanced system. Moreover,

 “A track occupies a portion of memory in the air traffic control computer. A track can hold data on
 controlled aircraft, uncontrolled aircraft, false target radar reports, aircraft detected by radar but not
 yet associated with a flight plan, and flight plans for aircraft not yet detected by radar.

 Page 7                                     GAO/IMTEGBO-M Loa Angeles Air Traffic           Control   Risks

                           as we recently testified, the eventual delay in this first phase will prob-
                           ably be greater than announced because some requirements issues are
                           still unresolved, and FAA has identified other new requirements.’ Under
                           FAA’S current plans, this will lead to delays in the delivery of later
                           phases to replace TFWON automation systems that were originally sched-
                           uled to be implemented in the mid-to-late 1990s and require existing sys-
                           tems to operate longer than expected. The advanced system may not be
                           fully implemented in the terminal environment until 2000. If this proves
                           to be the case, the current terminal automation systems, with currently
                           planned interim enhancements, may not be sufficient to handle future
                           traffic growth. FAA personnel acknowledged that a significantly delayed
                           advanced system could result in the need for a second interim solution.

FAA’s System Solution      FAA recognizes that TFWONS need more capacity to address current
Uses Outdated Technology   shortfalls and to meet future work load requirements. Therefore, it
                           plans to upgrade each of the ARTS IIIA systems, through contracts with
                           UNISB Corporation, by (1) adding solid state memory to the existing
                           equipment to increase processing speed, (2) refurbishing the disk drives,
                           (3) increasing the number of processors to eight, (4) purchasing and
                           implementing new displays, and (6) upgrading the existing software.
                           The additional processors will upgrade each of the systems to their max-
                           imum design limit; little additional significant processing capacity can be
                           added under the ARTS IIIA system design.

                           This expansion will require FAA to buy 1960s-vintage processors similar
                           to existing TRACONprocessors because the system software only operates
                           on the current hardware and because FAA believes rewriting new
                           software in order to buy processors currently marketed would involve
                           too much development risk. To procure the old processors, FAA will have
                           to rely on the one contractor-UNImS-that       can produce them. Depen-
                           dence on a single contractor increases the government’s vulnerability to
                           escalating costs for hardware and software maintenance because no
                           other vendor exists to provide price competition.

                           To supply the outdated processors, UNITS will have to restart a pro-
                           duction line. The capability of these 1960svintage processors-UNIVAC
                           8303s-is low. The processor can store up to 256,000 characters in

                           7FXA Encountering Problems in Acquiring Major Automated Systems (GAO/T-IMTEC-90-9, Apr. 26,

                           Page 8                              GAO/IMTF&9049      Los Angeles Air Traffic Control Risks
                          random access memory* and process up to approximately 600,000
                          instructions per second. By contrast, microcomputers available for con-
                          sumers on today’s market usually have more memory and processing
                          speed. For example, a typical desktop computer can store 4 million char-
                          acters and process between 2 and 3.5 million instructions per second.

                          The system software that runs the old processors, Ultra, is a UNISYS-
                          proprietary, assembly-language product that is antiquated and cumber-
                          some. Therefore, few programmers in the computer industry need to be
                          knowledgeable about this software. Nevertheless, UNISE officials are
                          confident that they can maintain a sufficient quantity of qualified staff
                          to support the ARTSIIIA systems, although they admit that other staff
                          may have to be retrained as Ultra programmers leave the company or

                          In addition, the old UNIVAC processors can perform only one task at a
                          time, whereas modern processors are multitask. Further, because of the
                          UNIVAC processor’s design, an entire program resides in the main
                          memory in order for it to be executed. Therefore, modifications to
                          software must be developed within the constraints of available memory.
                          This also makes programs more difficult to maintain since modifications
                          must be made in a highly efficient manner in order to minimize the
                          amount of memory they consume.

Alternative Solutions     FAA’S solution to remedying capacity deficiencies and addressing the

Could Potentially Meet    work load requirements of the Los Angeles basin involves risk. Before
                          deciding to pursue this solution, FAA considered other alternatives,
FAA’s Needsin the 1990s   including (1) a system similar to the one currently used at the New York
                          TRACON, (2) a system similar to those used at air route traffic control
                          centers,O(3) an International Business Machines Corporation proposal,
                          and (4) an unsolicited proposal by BDM Corporation,

                          FAA  concluded that only two alternatives-co-locating   three ARTS IIIA
                          systems, and implementing a UNISYS-developed system similar to the
                          one at the New York +rwoN-were       viable. The other alternatives were
                          not explored in depth primarily because they would have required addi-
                          tional time to embark on a new system development. FAA subsequently

                          “Random accessmemory describes the computer’s main memory, from which programs and files can
                          be most quickly accessed.
                          ‘FAA maintains 22 air route traffic control centers that control air traffic en route between airports.

                          Page 9                                    GAO/lMTEG9O49        Los Angeles Air Traffic    Control   Risks

                  decided not to use the New York system because it believed that it
                  would involve too much development risk.

                  In our July 1989 report, we identified the risks inherent in the approach
                  of upgrading the ARTS IIIA system at large TRACONSand noted that a new
                  advanced system was not scheduled to replace existing TRACKINsystems
                  until the mid-to-late 1990s. We therefore recommended that FAA conduct
                  a complete analysis of all available alternatives for meeting the larger
                  TRACBNS' air traffic requirements for at least the next 10 years. In its
                  response, the Department of Transportation dismissed our recommenda-
                  tion and stated that FAA had already formulated a plan in 1987, after an
                  analysis of alternatives, to meet TRACONautomation requirements for the
                  next lo-year period. For the Los Angeles consolidated facility, this plan
                  calls for buying the old processors and continuing with the ARTS IIIA

                  To meet its immediate computer capacity needs, FAA may have little
                  choice other than to proceed with sole-source arrangements with
                  UNISYS, procure the 196Os-vintage processors, and maintain the anti-
                  quated software. However, to meet the requirements of the Los Angeles
                  basin area through the 1990s and possibly beyond, modern technology
                  alternatives exist that do not have the growth constraints of the ARTS
                  IIIA system and do not rely on antiquated, cumbersome software. Other
                  contractors have previously made proposals to FAA for automating the
                  consolidated facility and for air traffic control automation in general.
                  Additionally, several FAA technical officials have recommended to
                  agency management that modern computers be used to replace the old-
                  technology processors. At the conclusion of our review, FAA officials
                  stated that, in view of the anticipated delays in the advanced automa-
                  tion system, they have decided to reevaluate whether UNISYS systems
                  such as the one in New York could meet the requirements of the Los
                  Angeles basin area through the 1990s. However, in spite of the availa-
                  bility of other system approaches, officials stated that they would not
                  consider other alternatives that involved system development because
                  of the additional time they believe would be required to undertake such
                  an effort.

                  FAA'S task is to assure that the Los Angeles area has sufficient computer
Conclusions       capability to safely control air traffic until an advanced system is
              w   installed. We have serious reservations about FAA's planned approach.

                  Page   10                     GAO/IlWTEC-9049   Los Angeles Air Traffic   Control   Risks

                  Our primary concern is that FAA does not have a computer capacity and
                  performance management program to determine future computer
                  requirements. As a result, FAA cannot accurately predict how long these
                  computers can operate before they become overloaded. Because it
                  lacked a capacity management program, FAA used instrument operations
                  as an indicator of computer demand in determining how long the consol-
                  idated facility could meet anticipated traffic growth. This is not a pre-
                  cise indicator of expected computer work load, since it does not consider
                  other information affecting computer utilization, such as the expected
                  distribution of forecast instrument operations. Even this imprecise indi-
                  cator would predict that the Los Angeles TFIACONalone would run out of
                  computer capacity in 1993, if traffic growth continues at the rate expe-
                  rienced through much of the 1980s.

                  Additionally, the advanced system may not be ready in the mid-to-late
                  19909, as FAA predicted, due to delays that have already occurred in the
                  first year of this project. The longer this advanced system is delayed,
                  the longer that the Los Angeles TRACON will have to depend on 196Os-
                  vintage computers.

                  The uncertainties in estimating future computer work loads and in
                  determining when the advanced system will be ready reflect the high
                  risk of FAA'S plan. While enhancing existing systems with limited tech-
                  nology may help address immediate capacity problems, it may not meet
                  Los Angeles’ needs through the 1990s. Alternative hardware and
                  software solutions have been proposed that could provide greater assur-
                  ance that the consolidated facility will be able to meet future require-
                  ments. While FAA officials’ recent recognition of the risk of continuing to
                  pursue their current plan and their decision to reevaluate the New York
                  TRACTON  alternative are encouraging, it is important that the Department
                  of Transportation and FAA not limit their evaluation of alternatives. If
                  the full range of alternatives is not evaluated, then agency officials will
                  not have the most complete information available to decide how to best
                  meet the needs of the Los Angeles area.

                  To help assure that future computer capacity needs of the Los Angeles
Recommendations   basin are met and that continued air safety is assured, we recommend
                  that the Secretary of Transportation direct the Administrator, FAA, to
                  institute a computer capacity and performance management program to
        *         determine the current and future requirements for the Los Angeles area.
                  As part of this program, FAA should analyze the current demand on sys-
                  tems during peak work load periods, determine the expected growth in

                  Page11                        GAO/IMTEGgO49   Los Angeles Air Traffic   Control   Risky

                      demand for computer capacity and processing resources for at least the
                      next 10 years, and determine what computer resources will be required
                      to meet the expected growth and ensure continued air safety.

                      Because of the many uncertainties surrounding the capability of the
                      ARTS IIIA systems to adequately support the consolidated Los Angeles
                      facility through the 19909, we also recommend that the Secretary direct
                      the Administrator to conduct a complete and documented assessment of
                      all viable alternative hardware and software solutions for addressing
                      future capacity and processing needs. This evaluation should not be con-
                      strained by discarding without analysis any alternative that involves
                      software development.

                      In view of the critical impact that insufficient computer capacity could
                      have on safe air travel nationwide, and because the Department of
                      Transportation has not acted expeditiously in response to our prior
                      report on FAA'S lack of a computer capacity management program, we
                      continue to believe that this area must be closely monitored by high-
                      level agency officials. We therefore recommend that the Secretary direct
                      the Administrator to assess the efficacy of FAA actions to date to address
                      capacity shortfalls in TRACONSnationwide.

Agency Comments and   tion and FAA officials on a draft of this report, Although expressing
Our Evaluation        agreement with most of the facts in the report, officials believed that
                      they were already implementing a computer capacity and performance
                      management program. They also pointed out that they would evaluate a
                      system such as the one at the New York TRACONas an alternative for
                      meeting the needs of the consolidated facility.

                      Regarding officials’ assertions that they were already implementing a
                      capacity and performance management program, we noted in the report
                      that FAA had begun deploying software to aid in measuring processor
                      utilization, However, this is only a first step in implementing an effec-
                      tive program. FXA also, at a minimum, needs to fully analyze the work
                      loads being placed on its systems, including analysis of peak work loads;
                      determine the expected future growth in demand for computer
                      resources; and then determine what computer resources will be required
                      to meet this expected demand. Regarding evaluating other alternatives
                      for the consolidated facility, FAA needs to expand its evaluation of alter-
                      natives to include a full range of possibilities in order to ensure that it
                      selects the solution that can best meet the needs of the Los Angeles area.

                      Page12                        GA0/IMTEG904   Los   Angeles Air Tmfflc Control Rieka
     As arranged with your offices, we are sending copies of this report to
     the Secretary of Transportation; the Administrator, FAA; and to other
     interested parties. We will also make copies available to others upon
     request. This report was prepared under the direction of JayEtta Z.
     Hecker, Director, Resources, Community, and Economic Development
     Information Systems, who can be reached at (202) 2759676. Other
     major contributors are listed in appendix II.

t-   Ralph V. Carlone
     Assistant Comptroller   General

 Page 13                          GAO/IMTEGW-49   Los Angeles Air Traffic   Control   Risks
Appendix I                                                                                               w
Objective, Scope,and Methodology

               At the request of the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations,
               Subcommittees on Transportation and Related Agencies, we reviewed
               FAA's automation plans for the consolidation of TRACONSin the Los
               Angeles area. Specifically, our objective was to determine if FAA had
               adequately planned for its air traffic control automation needs for the
               Los Angeles consolidated facility.

               To address this objective, we interviewed agency personnel and
               reviewed documents at FAA headquarters in Washington, D.C.; the FAA
               Technical Center in Pomona, New Jersey; and the FAA western pacific
               regional office in Hawthorne, California. We also interviewed automa-
               tion specialists and controllers at the four TRACONfacilities in Southern
               California that are to be consolidated. To determine what analysis had
               been done to meet the automation needs of the consolidated facility, we
               interviewed FAA headquarters and Technical Center personnel, and con-
               tractor personnel with UNISYB Corporation in St. Paul, Minnesota; and
               International Business Machines Corporation in Rockville, Maryland. We
               also reviewed FAA and contractor documents, as well as applicable fed-
               eral information resources management regulations.

               We discussed the complexity of the Los Angeles airspace and current
               FAA  automation capabilities with representatives from the Air Line
               Pilots Association in Los Angeles and in Washington, D.C.; the Aircraft
               Owners and Pilots Association in Washington, D.C.; and the National Air
               Traffic Controllers Association in Washington, D.C.

               We performed our work at FAA headquarters, the FAA Technical Center,
               and the FAA Western Pacific regional office; at TRACON facilities in Bur-
               bank, El Toro, Los Angeles, and Ontario, California, and New York, New
               York; at a radar approach control facility at Edwards Air Force Base,
               California; at the Air Route Traffic Control Center in Palmdale, Cali-
               fornia; and at UN1533 Corporation in St. Paul, Minnesota.

               We performed our review from April 1989 through April 1990, in accor-
               dance with generally accepted government auditing standards. The
               views of agency officials were sought during the course of our work and
               their comments have been incorporated where appropriate. In addition,
               at the completion of our review, we discussed the report’s key facts,
               conclusions, and recommendations with FAA officials. Finally, we
               obtained formal oral comments from Department of Transportation and
               FAA officials on a draft of this report and have incorporated these com-
               ments where appropriate.

               Page 14                      GAO/IMTEG90-49   Los Angeles Air Traffic   Control   Risks
kz         Contributors to This Report

                       Joel C. Willemssen, Assistant Director
Information            Theodore P. Alves Jr., Assignment Manager
Management and         Susan Bean, Computer Specialist
Technology Division,
Washington, D.C.
                       Allan Roberts, Regional Assignment Manager
Los Angeles Regional   Gary N. Hammond, Evaluator-in-Charge
Office                 Ralph H. Hamilton, Staff Evaluator

(aloans)               Page   16                   GAO/lMTEG9O-49Los Angeles Ah Traffic Control RMca
Orders must. be prepaid by cash or by check or mom&y or&r   made
out. to ttw Sopt~ritlt.endent, of Docnmetrt,s.