MCI wins $165M FAA satellite deal

The Federal Aviation Administration earlier this month awarded MCI a $165 million contract to provide satellite communications services in the National Airspace System (NAS).

The 10-year FAA Telecommunications Satellite (FAATSAT) contract will give the FAA a flexible vehicle for integrating satellite communications services into the air traffic control environment. Satellite communications will provide emergency communications and pave the way for new applications, such as global broadcast of voice and data.

"FAATSAT is the one missing link we have in our overall telecommunications plan," said Douglas Kay, division manager for the Leased Communications Division at the FAA.

MCI also holds the contract for the Leased Interfacility NAS Communications System, the other major component of the FAA's NAS communications infrastructure. Under LINCS, MCI is creating a backbone network with nearly 14,000 circuits connecting 5,000 FAA facilities. LINCS will be worth close to $1 billion.

FAATSAT gives the FAA a backup should a LINCS segment fail because of a natural disaster or technical problem. Additionally, the FAA can use FAATSAT for hooking up remotely located facilities and in other cases "where satellite services are more cost-effective" than land-based lines, Kay said.

The FAA specifically did not include satellite services as part of LINCS because the agency plans to use the technology for more than just communications backup. For example, the agency might use FAATSAT to broadcast weather information to multiple sites.

Such an approach could be used with any data that goes from a single source to multiple points, but weather is viewed as the first potential application, Kay said. "We have a lot of [weather] information flowing through various [NAS] areas," he said.

Satellite applications have become even more cost-effective than they were just a couple of years ago, said Jerry Edgerton, vice president of MCI Government Markets.

"There are all kinds of capabilities that are now unfolding because of the advances of the technology - not only in the satellite capability, but in satellite 'appliances,' " Edgerton said. For example, the antennas and ground stations have gotten much smaller and more affordable.

Going Further With Digital Technology

The satellite technology has evolved significantly with the development of digital broadcasting. Further change is being driven by heightened activity in such places as the entertainment industry, Edgerton said. "The FAA is really in the catbird's seat to take advantage of this technology," he said.

In addition to providing LINCS, MCI has done extensive work in satellite services. The vendor supports the Defense Department's Deployable SCAMPI contract, a satellite-based system for secure voice, data, fascimile and videoconferencing services. MCI also provides worldwide distribution of weather information for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

MCI recognizes that the FAA is making a similar push from terrestrial- to satellite-based in nearly all areas of operations. "We look forward to being the communications provider as this whole transition takes place," Edgerton said.

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