FAA's $1 billion contract to ITT targets air traffic delays

The Federal Aviation Administration took a major step last week to reduce air traffic gridlock and enhance safety by awarding a $1.86 billion contract to ITT and its team to build a modern air traffic surveillance system.

The Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast system will replace FAA’s outdated radar system with a global navigation satellite system, which will be the backbone of FAA’s Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen. ADS-B relies on the Global Positioning and ground systems to pinpoint aircraft locations, said Robert Sturgell, FAA’s deputy administrator.

“This contract is a great leap into the future,” Sturgell said at an Aug. 30 news briefing to announce the contract. “ADS-B — and, in turn, NextGen — will attack the delay problem head-on by dramatically increasing air traffic efficiency.”

Under the 18-year contract, ITT must have a system ready for deployment by 2010 and be able to provide its services nationwide by 2013. FAA will pay $207 million in the first three years to develop and deploy the system. The remainder of the costs will be for subscription charges for services until 2025.

Precise tracking by the modernized system will increase capacity because more aircraft will be able to fly closer to one another, said Vincent Capezzuto, director of FAA’s Surveillance and Broadcast Services Program Office.

“For the first time, pilots and air traffic controllers will see the same real-time displays of air traffic,” Capezzuto said. Pilots will gain better situational awareness because they will have a more accurate picture of where their aircraft are and the aircraft in the airspace around them.

A stable funding stream is critical to the smooth implementation of ADS-B, Sturgell said. Congress must decide on reauthorizing appropriations for FAA by Sept. 30.

Lawmakers, including Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he welcomed the contract, but he also promised “vigorous oversight of the contract and others related to NextGen.”

ADS-B won’t reduce gridlock on its own, some critics say. The new system can’t solve the capacity problem that major airports are facing, said Douglas Church, a spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the union that represents controllers.

The air transportation system still needs more runways and air traffic controllers to reap the benefits of the satellite system, Church said. “It doesn’t matter how many extra planes you can put in the sky due to a NextGen system,” he said. “You still have to land somewhere.”

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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