Pace of STARS testing called risky

An aggressive software testing schedule and problems with a compatible radar unit could significantly delay a Federal Aviation Administration effort to replace aging computers and radar displays at 173 terminal air traffic control facilities, the agency's inspector general told Congress. Alexis Stefani, testifying June 13 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 the program off track 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 [such] 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.

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

In addition, delays in replacing more than 100 analog airport surveillance radar systems, called ASR-7 and ASR-8 units, could affect STARS, which, as a digital system, will only work with a new digital unit, ASR-11. That unit, being developed by Raytheon through a Defense Department contract, demonstrated significant problems during DOD testing, including displaying nonexistent aircraft and incorrect 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, the FAA's associate administrator for research and acquisitions, told the subcommittee that ASR-11 delays are unlikely to affect STARS, but, as a backup, the agency is looking at radar digitizers and conversion kits to enable the system to accept analog radar data.

Zaidman said 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.

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

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