FAA preps award for consolidated telecom

The Federal Aviation Administration expects this week to award the FAA Telecommunications Infrastructure (FTI) contract, potentially worth $3.5 billion over 15 years, agency officials said.

FTI will integrate the management of multiple telecom networks, including satellite and phone services, for air traffic operations and administrative systems that are reaching the end of their lease terms or useful lives.

"The main thing FTI does for the FAA is put all our current telecommunications services into a single network or architecture," said Jack Clemons, senior vice president for strategic programs at Lockheed Martin Air Traffic Management, a prime bidder.

The move will save money, incorporate advanced technologies and improve security, said Clemons, who is overseeing Lockheed's efforts to win the contract.

In addition, two other teams, led by Harris Corp. and WorldCom Inc., are vying to make the connection.

"This contract is a next-generation strategy for managing the most critical applications network in the nondefense part of the federal government," said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting Inc. "There are few applications where there are more lives on the line."

The FAA is taking a performance-based approach to FTI that emphasizes results rather than detailed specifications and gives vendors room to come up with a best solution to meet an agency's mission.

The services contract, which has a five-year base, "is a critical element of our plan to modernize our National Airspace System," or NAS, said Fraser Jones, a spokesman for the FAA.

"They're investing in today's technology and a bridge to tomorrow's technology," Suss said. "It's a vital contract."

The telecom network that currently supports the nation's air traffic control system eventually will become part of FTI.

The Leased Interfacility NAS Communications System (LINCS), used to transmit radar, weather and other data, links 5,000 locations and carries more than 14,000 connections, enabling air traffic controllers to communicate with one another and with pilots.

The FAA awarded a follow-on contract to WorldCom in February to continue operating LINCS to smooth the transition to FTI.

WorldCom's original contract, which was competitively awarded in 1992, ended in March. The new five-year deal could bring as much as $604 million.

As such, the FTI contract provides another example of market convergence, where services that were handled under separate procurements are being bundled, Suss said. "Now that iron curtain is crumbling. In this case, it's not at all clear which side is going to win."

***

What's on tap

What it is: The Federal Aviation Administration's Telecommunications Infrastructure contract will integrate existing FAA telecom services into a single network.

The contract covers networks that support air traffic operations and administrative systems.

Value: $3.5 billion over 15 years.

Prime bidders: Lockheed Martin Air Traffic Management, Harris Corp. and WorldCom Inc.

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