FAA, Lockheed near deal

The Federal Aviation Administration is negotiating a contract with Lockheed Martin Air Traffic Management to replace the air traffic control system for tracking aircraft as they fly across oceans, an FAA spokeswoman said Thursday.

The FAA chose Lockheed Martin as the finalist in a competition for the Advanced Technologies and Oceanic Procedures acquisition. Lockheed Martin teamed with Airways New Zealand Adacel Technologies Ltd. to offer a system that is already in use in New Zealand.

The FAA plans to use the same system New Zealand does but has asked Lockheed Martin to incorporate some changes to handle the more complex U.S. airspace, FAA spokeswoman Tammy Jones said. Contract negotiations should be completed at the end of June, she said.

The system is estimated to cost about $200 million, but the total cost and installation schedule are part of those ongoing negotiations, she said.

During the last year, Lockheed and competitor ARINC Inc. demonstrated their oceanic systems at the FAA's William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City, N.J.

"The FAA concluded that Lockheed Martin offered the best value and acceptable development risk," Jones said.

Currently, controllers at three oceanic air traffic control centers in Oakland, Calif., New York and Anchorage use a system of paper strips to track the progress of aircraft through oceanic airspace. Controllers communicate with pilots through a radio operator, and the process is time-consuming and inefficient.

The ATOP system will transform the paper-strip tracking method to a computerized graphic display that a controller would update only if there is a discrepancy between where a plane is supposed to be at a particular time and where it actually is. The automated system will give controllers more time to process rerouting requests, plan ahead and explore options to make better use of the airspace.

The new system also is intended to take advantage of Global Positioning System satellite technology to obtain an aircraft's precise position and an automated data link between pilots and controllers that would reduce radio communications.

In addition to the New Zealand system, Lockheed Martin's system is based on the FAA's Microprocessor En Route Automated Radar Tracking System, which is already used by controllers in Anchorage.

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