FAA to begin telecom integration project

The Federal Aviation Administration next month plans to release a draft solicitation for a $1.9 billion program to replace and integrate the agency's aging telecommunications systems.

Under the FAA Telecommunications Infrastructure (FTI) program, the FAA will acquire ground-to-ground transmission, switching, routing and network management services for voice, data and video communications. FTI will replace several existing FAA-owned and -leased telecommunications networks that either will reach the end of their lifespan between 2002 and 2005 or whose contract will expire during that time.

Combining various programs into an integrated system is more cost-effective and provides the FAA an opportunity to upgrade an aging infrastructure all at once. "We're looking for an integrated network that integrates all services across the network [in order] for us to achieve economies of scale from an aggregate bandwidth point of view," said David Joyce, FIT product team lead at the FAA. "We're looking to [vendors] to provide those services."

The primary programs the FAA plans to replace under FTI are the following:

The Leased Interfacility NAS Communications System, which provides operational telecommunications connectivity for critical aviation services.

The Agency Data Transmission Network 2000, which provides wide-area network services to FAA sites nationwide, including FAA headquarters and regional offices.

The Data Multiplexing Network, which connects many FAA facilities such as en route centers by using circuits provided by other projects.

The National Data Interexchange Network II, which provides X.25 packet switching for high-speed data communications between users and host computers nationwide.

In addition, the FAA is considering replacing some or all of its local-area networks and up to 30 PBXs, said David Lantzy, deputy director for telecommunications at the FAA.

Network availability and network security are among the requirements for any telecommunications network that the FAA will use, Lantzy said at a seminar sponsored by Washington Technology. "FAA air traffic controllers give clearance for [about] 200,000 takeoffs and landings a day," he said. "You would not want to travel if the FAA telecommunications network was down."

FTI, which previously was known as the FAA Integrated Communications Systems for the 21st century (FICS-21) program, originally was to include additional networks such as one for satellite services. However, the FAA opted out of folding those under FTI primarily because the networks proved too complex to develop under a single umbrella contract, Joyce said. The agency will consider replacing them on a "case-by-case basis," he added.

Both systems integrators and carriers are expected to compete for FTI.

"From an industry view, FTI will be competitive because it leaves us a lot of room for an innovative approach," said Ray Bevacqua, senior director of business development at GTE Government Systems' Information Systems Division. "Traditionally, a lot of large programs have been hard-specified. FAA is saying, 'Here are our requirements; how will you meet them?' "

Bevacqua is vice chairman of an air traffic control industry committee sponsored by the Government Electronics and Information Technology Association that has provided feedback on FTI through its various subcommittees. FAA said it plans to meet again soon with the GEIA group to discuss the draft FTI solicitation.

The FAA appears to be taking the correct approach with FTI, said Robert Deller, president of Markess International Inc. "I think the FAA is thinking the right way," he said. "It doesn't sound like the FAA has thought of everything, [such as] how to integrate satellite communications and what to do with [interfaces to] international [systems]. But [FTI] has to stop some place."

The FAA plans to conduct the FTI procurement in two phases and will release a draft solicitation called a screening information request (SIR) for Phase 1 in September and a formal one in November. The agency will downselect to no more than three primes after the first phase and will issue a SIR to those vendors in April 2000. The FAA plans to award the FTI contract by December 2000.

"We feel doing a two-phased approach is a good way to reduce the number of offerors in an early manner to cut down on their expense on proposing and to narrow the playing field to a number of offerors" from which to choose, said Sue Handy, contracting officer for FTI at the FAA.

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