FAA agrees to $270M fix

The Federal Aviation Administration announced last week it would spend $270

million to address long-standing complaints from air traffic controllers

about the design of one of its major automation programs.

The decision to modify the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement

System comes after two years of discussions by the FAA, STARS contractor

Raytheon Co., the air traffic controllers and air traffic systems specialists

about so-called "human factors" in the design of air traffic displays and

workstations.

The STARS program, launched in 1997, will modernize the automation equipment

and displays at terminal radar approach control facilities, which manage

air traffic within a 50-mile radius of airports, and associated towers.

In the first year of the contract, air traffic controllers highlighted

nearly 100 problems that would make their displays difficult to view or

commands difficult to produce, said Bill Blackmer, director of safety and

technology for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

Congress told the FAA that the agency must meet with controllers and

technicians to address concerns such as:

* Menus that block the view of air traffic controllers' screens.

* Keyboards that require controllers to frequently look away from screens.

* An absence of audible alarms to indicate system errors.

STARS merely replaces the aging systems terminal controllers use today

with a modernized, faster system that still doesn't have the "bells and

whistles" that will save controllers' time, Blackmer said.

"Now, we need to sit down and look at what we can do to make life easier

for controllers, and that means dollars for airlines because [controllers]

will have more time" to maximize the airspace, Blackmer said.

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