STARS testing pace questioned

A Federal Aviation Administration system to replace aging computers and radar displays at 173 terminal facilities risks further delays and overruns because of an aggressive software testing schedule, problems discovered during testing and delays in fielding a companion digital radar system, the FAA's inspector general reported Wednesday.

FAA IG Alexis Stefani, testifying before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Aviation Subcommittee, said the FAA's tight software testing schedule for the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS) could throw off the whole program if things don't go perfectly.

"The test schedules of the multiple STARS software configurations overlap, and time frames for testing are aggressive," Stefani said. "The schedule creates significant risks that delays at any testing phase could further delay STARS deployment."

In testing completed in May of an initial version of STARS software, the FAA identified more than 500 trouble reports, 112 of which could affect "the essential performance of the system" or "jeopardize safety or security," Stefani said.

FAA and Raytheon Co., the contractor for STARS, will try to fix the most critical problems by the next testing day, July 13, but the FAA has said if not all of them will be corrected by then, she said.

In addition, delays in replacing more than 100 analog ASR-7 and ASR-8 (airport surveillance radar) units could affect STARS, which, as a digital system, will only work with a new digital radar unit, ASR-11. That radar unit, being developed by Raytheon through a Defense Department contract, demonstrated significant problems during DOD testing, including displaying false aircraft and showing misleading weather information, Stefani said.

"The FAA now expects as much as a six-month delay before it can begin testing ASR-11, which could have significant implications for the deployment of STARS," she said.

Steven Zaidman, FAA associate administrator for research and acquisitions, told the subcommittee that ASR-11 delays are unlikely to affect STARS, but, just in case, the agency is looking at radar digitizers and conversion kits to enable the system to accept analog radar data.

Also, Zaidman pointed out that an independent evaluation by Mitre Corp. shows that the FAA's software development schedule for STARS is achievable and "fully consistent with our estimates," he said.

"We continue to believe that, while there is STARS software development yet to be done, the schedule risk is manageable and consistent with our plans," he said.

When deployed, STARS will provide radar and flight-plan data on high-resolution color displays at 173 terminal air traffic control facilities and 362 airport control towers, as well as 102 DOD sites.

The subcommittee chairman, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) has stepped up congressional oversight of STARS and said he will hold another hearing on the program in September.

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