Lockheed nabs WAAS contract

The Federal Aviation Administration has selected Lockheed Martin Air Traffic Management to take the helm in the next stage of a satellite-based navigation program that helps pilots pinpoint their position.

The FAA awarded Lockheed Martin a contract potentially worth $597 million to provide satellite communications services for the agency's Wide Area Augmentation System.

WAAS is a network of ground stations that refines satellite signals and broadcasts them to receivers on aircraft. It enhances information provided by the Global Positioning System, a 24-satellite constellation built by the Defense Department that lets users determine their locations anywhere in the world.

Raytheon Co. has been developing the software that refines satellite signals, while Lockheed, under a separate, smaller contract, has provided the satellite uplinks needed to relay that signal to aircraft.

Since Raytheon delivered WAAS to the FAA in January — two months ahead of schedule — the thrust of the program has shifted to satellite communications, putting Lockheed in the lead.

The Lockheed-led team, which includes Raytheon and Boeing Co., will build ground stations that convert the refined data into signals that can be sent to aircraft via satellites.

"This acquisition is significant because the users of WAAS can be assured that the signal will be there during critical flight operations," said Tammy Jones, a spokeswoman for the FAA.

The agency currently leases space on two satellites, providing coverage nationwide. If one satellite failed, however, about half of the coverage would go out. Under the new agreement, Lockheed will provide a third satellite link.

"Raytheon remains very much involved in the WAAS program as our contract continues," said David Shea, a Raytheon spokesman. "We do not build satellites. Lockheed and Boeing do. We anticipate that our involvement will be the ground station work to send up the WAAS correction signals. We know this work better than anyone else."

WAAS will allow civil aviation pilots to rely on GPS as a primary means of navigation during take-off and landing, rather than depending on older, ground-based aids. FAA officials anticipate several benefits to the system, including more direct flight paths and increased capacity in the airspace — both major goals of the agency's massive modernization program.

"The more precisely you know where you are, the more precisely you can maneuver in relation to those around you and the airport," said Jack Clemons, senior vice president for strategic programs at Lockheed.

The procurement is in step with the Federal Radionavigation Plan, released by the Transportation and Defense departments March 26, 2001, which maintains the government's commitment to using satellite-based systems and supports keeping the existing ground-based systems as a backup.

"For any system that's being used for aviation safety, you have to have a signal always available," Clemons said.

Lockheed took over the contract for the existing satellites when it acquired Comsat Corp. — a deal it kept even after divesting the company. Officials are eager to continue the telecommunications work. "It's a way for us to provide an additional set of services beyond those that are in our traditional domain," he said.

Still, Raytheon has long been the name attached to the program, and industry insiders were not surprised to see the company on Lockheed's team.

"There has been a tendency over the years for Lockheed and Raytheon to trade contracts back and forth," said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting Inc. "They have different strengths, but they both have their depth and breadth in these areas related to the FAA."

The deal has a two-year base for design and development — work valued at $34 million. It includes options to lease satellite communications services on 10-year terms.

The FAA is currently conducting the operational test and evaluation of WAAS for flight safety.

With a third satellite on the horizon, "it's definitely a better product," said Bill Sears, director of communications, navigation and surveillance at the Air Transport Association of America Inc.

***

WAAS facts The Federal Aviation Administration has awarded Lockheed Martin Air Traffic Management the latest in a series of contracts for the Wide Area Augmentation System. WAAS is a network of ground stations that enhances information provided by Global Positioning System satellites and broadcasts it to receivers on aircraft. Lockheed will supply a third satellite link for WAAS. The company also will provide ground stations that convert the refined GPS data into signals that can be sent to aircraft via satellites.

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