FAA tour hits ground running

The Federal Aviation Administration and Raytheon Co. are taking a high-tech road trip this summer, bringing along the air traffic control system that controllers soon will be using on the job.

A 28-foot-long van housing the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS) stand-alone console and two tower displays will tour some of the 171 civilian airport facilities that will receive the system during the next several years, giving future users a glimpse of what's to come. FAA Administrator Jane Garvey launched the tour at a July 10 ceremony in Washington, D.C., before the console proceeded to its next stop at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. "It's going to be a wonderful opportunity for the controllers and technicians to see it and understand its great power and potential," Garvey said.

The STARS console, which features a 20-inch-by-20-inch color display, incorporates all of the changes requested by air traffic controllers to enhance its ease of use and minimize the impact of switching from the older Automated Radar Terminal System (ARTS) technology used today. For example, knobs alongside the screen were installed in lieu of on-screen pull-down menus. Also, an interactive toolbar was added, and an ARTS-style A-to-Z keyboard was installed. Those changes added more than $200 million to the cost of the STARS program.

The touring demonstration van will give controllers an idea of how their requests have turned out, said Bob Meyer, business development manager for air traffic management systems at Raytheon, the vendor for STARS.

"We need to get the message out to users that STARS is what they asked for," Meyer said. "It's the real equipment."

The same STARS consoles and some software have been piloted at airports in El Paso, Texas, and Syracuse, N.Y., since 1999.

In addition to the STARS console, to be installed at Terminal Radar Approach Control facilities, the van features two displays that will be installed at airport control towers. One display was hung from the back of the van at the July 10 demonstration to show that it is readable from as far as 6 feet away in intense sunlight, which tower workers often contend with. The demonstration van and tour are joint efforts by the FAA and Raytheon. The STARS equipment, the van and installation cost about $440,000, said Bob Eckel, Raytheon vice president for air traffic management systems.

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