FAA works with controllers to solve unsafe STARS design

The Federal Aviation Administration is closer to solving what air traffic controllers describe as hazardous design flaws in the new computer equipment and software the agency plans to install in airport control towers nationwide, FAA administrator Jane Garvey told a House committee yesterday.

Controllers have told the FAA that its design of the $1 billion Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System, which will replace the systems that process and display aircraft traffic data for a 50-mile radius around the nation's airports, may hinder air traffic control because the system's windowing software frequently blocks the icons that represent aircraft on the screen. The FAA is working with The Mitre Corp. and controllers to solve the human interface problems [FCW, Nov. 3, 1997].

Garvey told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Subcommittee on Aviation that the FAA has learned the importance of involving the controllers in the development of STARS. "In the past few months, FAA management and [the National Air Traffic Controllers Association] have made great strides in working out these issues," Garvey said. "I am optimistic that all the human factors issues will be resolved."

As of Feb. 25, the Mitre-led human factors team had solved 87 of the 98 identified STARS-related issues and was working to refine design solutions and address the remaining 11 problems, said Michael McNally, president of NATCA. "We have little time to replace aging equipment, but we sincerely believe we can get the job done," he said.

Garvey said STARS hardware already has been delivered to three airports: Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Boston Logan Airport and Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. The first fully operational STARS system is scheduled to be deployed in Boston in December; however, the deployment may be delayed by four or five months.

Both the General Accounting Office and the Transportation Department's inspector general believe the FAA may not meet its December deadline. One reason is that software development has been more complicated than expected.

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