FAA taps Lockheed for oceanic radar

The Federal Aviation Administration is negotiating a contract with Lockheed Martin Air Traffic Management to replace the air traffic control system for tracking aircraft flying across oceans.

In its bid for the Advanced Technologies and Oceanic Procedures program (ATOP), Lockheed Martin teamed with Airways New Zealand and Adacel Technologies Ltd. to offer a system already used in New Zealand.

The FAA plans to use the same system but has asked Lockheed Martin to incorporate changes to handle the more complex U.S. airspace, said FAA spokeswoman Tammy Jones.

The system is estimated to cost about $200 million, but the total cost and schedule are part of contract negotiations that will be finalized by the end of June, Jones 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. Diversified International Sciences Corp. was eliminated earlier from the competition.

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

Controllers at oceanic air traffic control centers in Oakland, Calif., New York and Anchorage, Alaska, use paper strips to track the progress of aircraft through oceanic airspace and communicate with pilots through a radio operator.

The new system will transform the paper-strip tracking method to a computerized graphic display that a controller would update only when necessary. The automated system will give controllers more time to process rerouting requests, plan ahead and explore options to make more efficient use of the airspace.

Lockheed's Oceans 21 system also will take advantage of precise satellite positioning technology and an automated data link between pilots and controllers to reduce radio communications.

Air traffic controllers support the FAA's decision, said Kevin Chamness, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association's liaison to the FAA for ATOP.

"The fundamental shift from the paper to the glass is extremely significant, and I don't want to underemphasize that significance," Chamness said. But because New Zealand already uses the system and controllers comfortably use other systems developed by Lockheed Martin, "it mitigates a lot of my concern," he said.

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