STARS inches toward its next phase at FAA

The Federal Aviation Administration says it has solved a serious problem with its Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System and is ready to proceed with the rollout of the system at other airports.

STARS, which provides air traffic controllers with a single system to view air traffic and weather advisories, was installed at El Paso International Airport in Texas and Syracuse Hancock International Airport in New York earlier this year. But at El Paso, FAA reduced the system to only emergency service and used the Air Route Traffic System, which STARS is intended to replace, as its primary air traffic control system, because STARS misidentified aircraft.

Problem fixed

FAA said Raytheon Co., the lead contractor on the project, installed a fix at El Paso earlier this month. As of press time, FAA had not reported the results of Raytheon's effort.

FAA plans to begin using the system at Philadelphia International Airport on Nov. 17. But the union that represents information systems workers at FAA still has serious reservations about STARS. The Professional Airways Systems Specialists protested when FAA implemented the system at Syracuse, claiming it hadn't been tested thoroughly. And the union remains unconvinced that STARS is ready for use at major airports.

STARS tracks the movement of each aircraft on its display with a tag that identifies the aircraft, its airline, altitude, and places of departure and arrival. But at El Paso, the system exhibited what FAA called track jump anomalies'tags sometimes jumped to other aircraft, giving air traffic controllers inaccurate information.

'The ATCs were very upset with this,' said Dale Kettring, an air transportation specialist and representative with PASS. 'We consider this very, very serious. The track issue puts the STARS program in question.'

An FAA official said STARS has worked well at El Paso and Syracuse in directing live traffic.
'No significant operational problems were reported in Syracuse with the system,' the official said. 'The only significant operational problem at El Paso has been the track anomalies.'

But PASS national vice president Tom Brantley said the union also is worried that systems workers have not received adequate training to keep STARS running.

He said the agency is driven by the need to meet the STARS deployment schedule, and has overlooked glitches and training requirements for the system.

The FAA official said the agency will not deploy the system if it is not safe.

'All critical problems with STARS will be fixed before it is used to control live traffic,' he said. 'We want to meet our schedule commitments, but not at the risk of safety.'

He said the agency is training technicians to use the system at Philadelphia, and will continue until Nov. 8.

FAA plans to use STARS at 172 commercial and 199 Defense sites. The system was installed at the two airports this year after cost overruns and years of delays.

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