FAA's new aeronautical system will ease flight-plan filing

The Federal Aviation Administration plans this year to roll out a new intranet system that will make it easier and faster for military pilots to plan and file flight plans and to access up-to-the-minute weather data.The Aeronautical Information System (AIS) will replace the current 20-year-old text-based system with one that is based on graphics. About 250 military-base operations and FAA automated-flight-service stations nationwide will have access to AIS.

In April the FAA awarded GTE Government Systems a $12.6 million contract to develop the system. The FAA tapped the Transportation Department's Information Technology Omnibus Procurement contract to award the task order one of ITOP's largest task orders awarded so far.

GTE designed AIS to access a central World Wide Web server from a Netscape Communications Corp. browser on a PC. The Web server will in turn access the mainframe where AIS is located said Jim Cooper business development manager at GTE.

The mainframe is a "fail-safe storage of data and the interface into the FAA's National Airspace System" (NAS) Cooper said. "The Web server is where users come in and there is a firewall between the two so users can't affect the NAS."

Frank Baron contracting officer technical representative for AIS at the FAA said AIS "will provide point-and-click access to the mainframe. Under the current system flights are filed under a text message but under AIS it will be a screen with blanks to fill in. There will be less room for error and operators will have a much nicer technology because it is Windows-based."

The FAA developed AIS primarily as a cost-saving measure Baron said. He estimated that the FAA could save $1.5 million a year on maintenance costs by replacing the older equipment with the newer system.But AIS offers other benefits. Currently users must make a long-distance call to file flight plans but with the new intranet-based system users need only connect to a dedicated network.

"Under AIS we only have to bring a single connection from one wide-area network into the mainframe " Baron said. The mainframe currently spread over 21 locations will be consolidated into a single system in Chantilly Va.

In addition the WAN connection whether it be through the military or the FAA WAN will be much faster than the current connection Baron said. The lowest speed of any WAN is 56 kilobit/sec he said compared with the maximum 2400 kilobit/sec for the current dial-up service.

Because AIS is an intranet modifications and upgrades will be much easier to do Cooper said. Users will no longer need to download software upgrades for example because the upgrades will be done centrally through the Web server.

The FAA expects to conduct the first operational test of AIS in about four months.

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