FAA forges ahead with STARS

The Federal Aviation Administration plans to install a new air traffic control system in Philadelphia in November despite several unresolved problems, an inspector general report released June 5 found.

The agency "fundamentally disagrees" with the conclusions of the report and contends that "it will not deploy a system that is unsafe," FAA Administrator Jane Garvey said in a memorandum to Transportation Department Inspector General Kenneth Mead issued later that day.

The Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS) eventually will swap aging equipment for new color displays, processors and computer software at 173 air traffic control facilities nationwide.

As of May 2, 221 deficiencies weren't fixed that the FAA has characterized as either "critical" or "truly critical" to meeting the November deadline, Mead said in a June 3 report. Further, the agency has deferred independent testing of the system until after its deployment, he said.

"We have little doubt that STARS hardware and software can be 'installed' by November, but, in our opinion, it is doubtful that it will be operationally suitable by [then] to control live air traffic," he concluded.

Garvey said timing the STARS evaluation for after it goes operational is standard procedure. Raytheon Co., which is developing the system, said in a response to the report that a first round of testing has already been successfully completed and at least one more round is slated to take place before November. It said 131 trouble areas remain open.

Controversy is nothing new for STARS. Cost overruns and delays have plagued the system, which is 80 percent over budget. The FAA has been spending about $10 million a month this year on the contract, Mead said.

And the inspector general is not alone in his concerns.

The technicians who maintain air traffic control equipment refused to certify STARS in Syracuse, N.Y., prompting the FAA to order their approval, according to the Professional Airways Systems Specialists (PASS), the union that represents the employees. PASS has called on Congress to investigate the matter.

STARS has been used in pilot projects at airports in Syracuse and El Paso, Texas, since 1999.

Controllers in El Paso have registered several complaints with the system, the report found.

Raytheon said four "relatively minor issues were identified and are being addressed."

"On Nov. 17, the FAA will go operational at Philadelphia with a STARS system that is far superior to the legacy system it replaces," Garvey said. "All critical reports will be resolved. The system will be thoroughly tested and will be proven to be safe, efficient and maintainable."

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