Funding issues delay STARS' launch

The Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System, known as STARS, overcame major development obstacles to get to this point: Air traffic controllers want to use it.

Now financial constraints may force them to wait.

STARS will swap aging equipment for new color displays, processors and computer software at controller facilities nationwide. The long-delayed and overbudget program, which Ray-theon Co. is developing and installing, took heat last June from the inspector general at the Transportation Department for unresolved problems.

Despite that criticism, the Federal Aviation Administration switched the system on at Phila-delphia International Airport in November 2002. Soon after, the controllers' union and the FAA deemed STARS a success.

"The system has had no failures that we're aware of," said William Marberg, Raytheon's director of business development for air traffic management systems. It's "really ready to go," he said.

The agency planned to deploy STARS at 18 additional airports this year, but that number dropped to seven following the Feb. 3 release of the fiscal 2004 budget request, according to John Carr, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

"It's kind of a shame that now that we've moved across the finish line, we can't deploy as quickly as we'd like to," Marberg said.

The stakes are high for STARS. The program is one of several slated to make modernization a reality during the next five years. Since Raytheon won the job in 1996, spending on system development has soared to about $1 billion. Meanwhile, STARS remains on the inspector general's watch list.

For his part, Carr maintains that the technology issues are resolved and that the 16,500 employees his association represents await the upgrade.

Controllers in Tucson, Ariz., underwent training and readied their equipment in anticipation of getting STARS next month, but the FAA "cannot finish the job," Carr said Feb. 13 at a breakfast sponsored by the Aviation Safety Alliance. "It will be obsolete by the time the last systems are deployed."

The agency confirmed that the rollout schedule has been extended because of the continuing resolution and the markup for appropriations this year. "We're spreading it out over more years than we had hoped," said Rebecca Trexler, an FAA spokeswoman.

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STARS power

The Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System, known as STARS, went operational at Philadelphia International Airport in November 2002.

Raytheon Co. is developing and installing STARS, which replaces the older Automated Radar Terminal Systems being used at Terminal Radar Approach Control facilities. Controllers at those facilities manage planes within a 50-mile radius of an airport.

STARS presents radar and flight plan data on high-resolution color displays that also show six levels of weather information.

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