FAA likely to stay course on STARS

The Federal Aviation Administration and Raytheon Co. have come so far on a new air traffic control system that the agency is unlikely to change courses and accept Lockheed Martin Corp.'s offer for an alternative, panelists told a House subcommittee Wednesday.

By the end of March, 85 percent of the software code needed to start deployment of Raytheon's Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS) at 173 FAA Terminal Radar Approach Control (Tracon) facilities will be complete, Steve Zaidman, FAA associate administrator for research and acquisitions, told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Aviation Subcommittee during a hearing on the status of STARS.

"The largest challenge we faced in the last two years was to complete the development of the new software to incorporate the computer-human interface changes identified by our workforce," Zaidman said. "But I believe that challenge is now mostly behind us."

Within a year of Raytheon being awarded the STARS contract in September 1996, air traffic controllers highlighted nearly 100 problems that would make the displays difficult to view or commands difficult to produce.

FAA, Raytheon and controllers collaborated to redesign the system, raising the program's budget from $940 million to $1.4 billion. Tracon controllers manage traffic in airspace within a 50-mile radius of an airport.

In the interim, Lockheed Martin has deployed its Common Automated Radar Terminal System (ARTS) to 136 Tracons and is now offering the system to FAA as a fixed-price replacement for STARS. Common ARTS offers similar processing capabilities to STARS but does not include the human factors changes required by controllers.

"Any of the two systems will do the job," Zaidman said. "The question is how much more time and money we want to spend.... The software will work...but when you start customizing the Lockheed Martin product to meet the requirements of the Raytheon product, you will have a painful course in lessons learned, which is what got us here. I think we should stay the course."

Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), the ranking member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he was disappointed that Lockheed Martin claimed Common ARTS was the same as STARS.

"Well, that's simply not the fact," he said. "I really believe that we need to stay on track and get this system installed and under way."

Representatives from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and the Professional Airways Systems Specialists expressed their support for the Raytheon program but were concerned about the difficulty of deployment that lies ahead.

The costs associated with redesigning facilities and making changes to accommodate the new equipment could raise the cost about 15 percent, Zaidman said.

Michael Fanfalone, president of PASS, said the union wants the FAA to devise a contingency plan in case deployment of STARS to the 54 Tracons with the oldest equipment falls behind schedule.

Deployment will begin at the Memphis Tracon in 2002, followed by a year of testing. Full deployment to all Tracons will start in 2003 and end in 2008, Zaidman said. FAA will issue a deployment schedule June 1, he said.

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the subcommittee, said he will hold another hearing on STARS the first week in June.


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