FAA still sees STARS in its air traffic future

Controllers in El Paso, Texas, next month will begin testing a critical air traffic control system developed by Raytheon Co. That timeline makes it unlikely that the Federal Aviation Administration will accept an alternative offered last week by Lockheed Martin Corp.

Raytheon plans to write the last 15 percent of software code for its Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS) by September and begin deploying the system to 173 FAA Terminal Radar Approach Control (Tracon) facilities starting in 2003. In April, controllers in El Paso will run STARS in the background for evaluation.

STARS has been behind schedule since shortly after its award to Raytheon in 1996. Controllers and maintenance technicians identified 98 human/computer interface issues that would make their displays difficult to view. The display redesign has increased the cost of STARS from $940 million to $1.4 billion.

The cost could rise to nearly $2 billion during deployment because of training and modifications needed at some FAA facilities, said Kenneth Mead, the Transportation Department's inspector general, speaking to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Aviation Subcommittee during a March 14 hearing on the status of STARS.

The FAA will issue a STARS deployment schedule June 1, said Steve Zaidman, FAA associate administrator for research and acquisitions.

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

Either system could do the job, Zaidman said. "The question is how much more time and money we want to spend.... Before we launch into an alternative strategy, I'd like to continue the one I think I've been on successfully for several years." 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 difficult deployment ahead.

Lockheed's Common ARTS has been a contingency system during delays in STARS' development, Zaidman said. Controllers accepted Common ARTS with only seven modifications, which were made in three months for $270,000, said John Nikolai, Lockheed's director of surveillance programs. Lockheed could replace the oldest systems with Common ARTS within 12 months, he said.

Charting STARS

The Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS) will provide new color displays, processors and computer software to air traffic controllers at 173 Terminal Radar Approach Control (Tracon) facilities. Tracon controllers manage traffic in airspace within a 50-mile radius of an airport. STARS will also be implemented at 102 Defense Department facilities.

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