The Federal Aviation Administration has announced that the now-outdated computer system that caused the U.S. flight groundings last month will have to be fully upgraded by 2030, The Register reports.
On January 11, the FAA grounded all domestic planes for the first time since the 2001 terrorist attacks, when the Notice of Airworthiness (NOTAM) servers, which provide important information to pilots and crews about flight safety or route planning, were down.
Policymakers were predictably outraged. During hearings before the Congressional Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Tuesday, several representatives described Notices of Air Mission (NOTAMs) as outdated, and Rep. Colin Allred (D-TX) said 2030 is an “unacceptably long time” to wait for improvements.
But when Allred asked why the FAA had requested only $3 billion in facilities and equipment funding – the same amount it has requested since 2009 (even accounting for inflation) – Dave Boulter, the FAA’s acting deputy administrator for aviation safety, didn’t have many answers.
Allred pointed out that $29.4 million of that $3 billion is earmarked for NOTAM modernization and asked Boulter how much funding would be needed to move the deadline for completing the modernization to 2025. Boulter had no answer, saying only that such software is not within his purview.
He noted that people at the FAA “want things to go faster,” but that he didn’t know what money would be needed to make that happen. Asked if he thought the FAA was satisfied with its current funding request, Boulter replied that he believed that and that any changes would come directly from the FAA, The Register reports on the subject.
When can we expect better NOTAMs?
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, whose department oversees the FAA, said recently that the government needs to accelerate the pace of modernization of aviation computer systems, but noted that the FAA has been cautious about changes to the NOTAM system, which “has been assembled over decades but has an excellent safety record.”
“The FAA began modernizing the NOTAM system in 2019 and is scheduled to discontinue use of the legacy U.S. NOTAM system by mid-2025. The second phase of NOTAM system modernization is scheduled to be completed in 2030,”
the agency told The Register.
Pete Bunce, president and CEO of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, said the FAA needs to consider what can be done with commercial products in combination with NOTAM to create a better system. He recommended adding artificial intelligence into the NOTAM mix to weed out unnecessary data and “provide us pilots with good data about the missions we are performing.”
But Bunce also said he doesn’t believe the FAA has the policy, requirements or vision to create a proper aviation ecosystem.