FAA taps Harris for telecom contract

The Federal Aviation Administration announced last week that it has awarded Harris Corp. the FAA Telecommunications Infrastructure (FTI) contract, potentially worth $3.5 billion across 15 years.

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 useful lives.

"If you think about the FAA's mission, it's probably the most important telecommunications network in the world outside of warfighting" networks, because it deals with lives, said John O'Sullivan, vice president of the FTI program at Harris.

Two other groups, led by Lockheed Martin Air Traffic Management and WorldCom Inc., competed for the performance-based contract, which has a five-year base.

"This is a major victory for Harris," said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting Inc. "This is probably the second-largest contract on the marketplace where you have head-on competition between carriers and integrators. It positions Harris for the next wave of contracts with convergence of technologies."

To get the job done, Harris has teamed with several subcontractors, including BellSouth Corp., Qwest Communications International Inc., Raytheon Technical Services Co., SBC Communications Inc., Sprint and Verizon Communications.

"The FAA has a need to upgrade their nationwide infrastructure — not just airport activity, but really all of their facilities," said Tony D'Agata, vice president of the government systems division at Sprint. "It's a major undertaking initiated a few years ago, and it's finally coming to fruition. For us, it will mean installing thousands of circuits."

The FAA plans to phase out older systems, which are leased, and replace them with systems from one provider.

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

The Leased Interfacility National Airspace System 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.

"FTI will transform FAA telecommunications," said Steve Dash, the FAA's FTI program manager. "It will reduce costs, improve network security and provide greatly enhanced telecommunications performance [during] the next 15 years. It is the key component on [NAS] modernization. It will benefit the entire aviation community."

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

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

"I think it's clear that WorldCom lost the most," Suss said. "WorldCom is the incumbent on LINCS."

WorldCom officials recently admitted to improperly accounting for billions of dollars in expenses. The General Services Administration is reviewing the company's contracts to determine whether to bar it from future federal work.

"It would have been extremely difficult for WorldCom to walk away with a victory because of the perceived risk," Suss said.

FTI subcontractor Qwest is also under scrutiny from GSA and is facing financial problems, but that is not a concern for Harris, according to O'Sullivan.

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Making the connection

The Federal Aviation Administration has awarded Harris Corp. the FAA Telecommunications Infrastructure (FTI) contract. FTI will primarily support the FAA, Coast Guard and Defense Department.

Under the program, a team led by Harris will:

* Consolidate the Leased Interfacility National Airspace System Communications System, Data Multiplexing Network, Bandwidth Manager and National Aviation Data Interchange Network into an integrated telecom infrastructure.

* Replace more than 35,000 circuits.

* Upgrade switching and routing services.

* Improve network monitoring and control.

* Deploy a state-of-the-art security system.

* Provide network engineering services.

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