Air traffic program hits turbulence

Raytheon Co. has filed its second protest against an air traffic modernization project potentially worth $1 billion, in part over the criteria the Federal Aviation Administration will use to judge proposals.

"We believe the playing field isn't level and that we have a valid, compelling reason for this action," said Blanche Necessary, a spokeswoman for Raytheon.

The FAA's Office of Dispute Resolution for Acquisition upheld a protest by Raytheon a year ago against the decision to make a sole-source award to Lockheed Martin Corp. to modernize computer hardware and software at the agency's 20 en route centers. The centers take over air traffic control after an aircraft leaves an airport's airspace.

Raytheon filed its latest protest after the FAA identified the four factors that will count in its evaluation of bids for the En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) program: approach, capabilities, experience and past performance.

Raytheon took issue with the emphasis on previous work, specifically en route projects, and lodged a complaint March 29, the same day potential offerors identified team members, officials said. The company also contends that incumbent Lockheed has an unfair competitive advantage.

Both companies had reviewed drafts of the screening information request and were allowed to submit comments, officials said.

"We believe the protest is without merit," Lockheed officials said in a statement. "We are distressed that this vital national priority upgrade that has already been delayed by a year due to Raytheon's initial protest risks further delays due to their current protest of the competition they desired."

Lockheed, whose team includes Boeing Co., has more than 30 years of experience updating and maintaining technology at en route centers.

"The events of Sept. 11 would suggest [that] improvements to the National Airspace System infrastructure are of paramount importance," said Don Antonucci, president of Lockheed Martin Air Traffic Management, in a statement. "Action, not delay, is needed."

Raytheon, which has three programs on the Transportation Department inspector general's watch list, also has worked with en route and terminal air traffic management systems.

"We believe Raytheon has excellent credentials and available technology for this program," Necessary said. "Our performance on all of our FAA programs is good, and we have always delivered to our FAA customers the quality systems they ask for."

The FAA aimed to complete the en route modernization by 2008, the end-of-life date for the IBM Corp. mainframes that run the agency's software.

"It also is the operating system for the machine," explained Scott Ginsburg, ERAM technical representative for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. "This thing doesn't fail gracefully. That's why an outage is such a big deal."

Meanwhile, after a meeting April 5, FAA officials have agreed to pursue an alternative dispute resolution. The parties will try to resolve the issues during the next two weeks. Bids for ERAM are due by April 15.


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