Top 4 opportunities at FAA

The FAA dominates the IT spending at the Transportation Department, and immixGroup analyst Kevin Shaker explores the top four opportunities at the agency.

In all of the Department of Transportation, no agency gets more budget for IT purchases in a year than the Federal Aviation Administration. Out of $3.3 billion requested by the department overall, $2.9 billion is directed to the FAA, essentially because it has the largest IT mission – namely, NextGen, FAA’s initiative to modernize the way in which the United States manages air travel.

NextGen has been around for more than 10 years, with the aim to revamp the National Airspace System. The goal is to replace the current air traffic system – which relies on radar to track aircraft in flight – with a system that uses satellite and GPS technology, to get a more accurate, real-time view of air traffic in the United States.

Ultimately, the FAA is looking to make better air traffic routing decisions to cut down on travel time, improve responses to potential in-flight emergencies caused by things like bad weather, and reduce the risk of mid-air collisions or other accidents.

It’s a complex initiative that requires considerable investment. Almost 88 percent of the Transportation’s IT budget is projected to fund FAA initiatives. This leaves 6 percent of the IT budget to the office of the secretary and 6 percent to be divided among the other DOT administrations. This is the most skewed share of IT funding for any subcomponent agency in government – all because of NextGen.

Let’s look at four of the largest investments that make up the NextGen IT portfolio:

TAMR-P (Terminal Automation Modernization and Replacement Program). TAMR-P is the largest program at the FAA with a $350 million funding level for fiscal 2015 and a requested fiscal 2016 increase of $50 million in development, modernization, and enhancement (DME) funding. TAMR-P aims to automate terminal functions at air traffic control towers. In 2015 and 2016, TAMR-P will go through a series of upgrade configurations at three operational sites. Along with those, the program plans to implement mandatory software for security and safety enhancements.

ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance - Broadcast). ADS-B is a big data investment. It processes and disseminates air traffic information to pilots and air traffic controllers. It’s also the central hub for the NextGen portfolio. The vision is to have every supporting technology report data into the ADS-B system so that it can be centrally managed, analyzed, and shared with internal and external stakeholders. Potential requirements range from application development and lifecycle management to data management, integration, and analytics.

DataComm (Data Communications NextGen Support). DataComm is the telecommunications and information exchange component that allows NextGen data to flow into ADS-B. DataComm has the largest DME increase of any program within the Transportation Department with greater than $80 million because it’s gearing up for implementation in the fiscal 2016-2017 timeframe.

FAA Time-Based Flow Management (TBFM). TBFM decreases flight delays by using time-based metering and other technologies. The program is looking to acquire big data and analytical tools to include in the creation of its third work package, scheduled for fiscal 2016.

If you plan to sell COTS products to the FAA, the Department of Transportation’s Office of the Chief Information Officer is only useful as a way to pick up strategic messaging and get senior stakeholders to push your product in a trickle-down method. Instead, you’ll want to focus your time with three FAA offices: the Air Traffic Organization (ATO), the Office of NextGen, and the Office of Information and Technology (OIT).

Teaming up with the right contractors and contract holders is vital to your success at selling to the FAA. Companies like Lockheed Martin and Harris Corp. have been ingrained at the FAA with history lasting over decades. If you have worked with any of the heavy hitter contractors such as Lockheed Martin, Harris, or Raytheon, you will want to leverage those connections – especially within the office of NextGen, where they are driving innovation, R&D, and integration initiatives.

For IT infrastructure, enterprise mobility, and cloud computing sales opportunities, your time will best be spent working at the OIT level. If your products don’t fit into one of those categories, focus on the Office of NextGen and the ATO.

Lastly, remember that FAA is dealing with a large amount of DME funding. That means you can lead with your product’s technical capabilities and win because your tools are better, not cheaper.

NEXT STORY: 18F steps up its acquisition game

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