Air Traffic ControlFAA's Transition of Communications System to Digital Technology Gao ID: IMTEC-91-77FS September 26, 1991
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recognizes that it needs to eventually convert its communications network to a predominantly digital architecture because of the obsolescence of analog technology. In August 1991, FAA began installing equipment on the Radio Communications Link system to enable the transmission of digital data over digital communications lines, while maintaining the current analog-based system. To plan for the transition to digital architecture, FAA began two contractor studies to (1) design a future all-digital architecture for FAA's communications system and (2) determine when to fully convert the agency's interfacility communications system, including the Radio Communications link, to digital technology.
GAO found that: (1) digital technology has advanced while analog technology has become obsolete, and cost differences between the two technologies for long-distance communications have narrowed, making digital technology more attractive from a cost viewpoint; (2) in August 1991, FAA began installing equipment on the RCL system to enable the transmission of digital data over digital communications lines, while maintaining its current analog-based RCL system; (3) several studies performed for FAA in 1988 and 1989 concluded that digital technology would be needed to meet future FAA air traffic control requirements, while offering performance improvements with reduced operating costs; (4) FAA decided to convert its system gradually because it wanted to realize a return of the substantial investment already made in analog technology, believed the analog RCL system would provide enough capacity to meet the communications work load through the end of the century, and wanted to further study when to convert to digital technology; and (5) to assist in the transition planning, FAA initiated two contractor studies to design a future digital communications architecture and determine when to fully change FAA interfacility communications system, including the RCL system, to digital technology.