FAA runs shakedown cruise of its approach system

FAA runs shakedown cruise of its approach system

Two airports test STARS to evaluate the 'complex interplay between man and machine,' agency says

By Tony Lee Orr

GCN Staff

After four years of work and one false start, the Federal Aviation Administration has installed its new radar airport approach system at two airports.

Hancock International Airport in Syracuse, N.Y., in January became the second airport to use the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System. In December, FAA installed STARS at El Paso International Airport in Texas.

Ultimately, STARS will replace airport approach systems at 173 FAA sites and at Defense Department facilities.

The system, developed by Raytheon Co., is the next-generation version of FAA's Automated Radar Terminal Systems. STARS and ARTS track aircraft once they are within a 50-mile radius of an airport.

STARS uses a modified version of Raytheon's AutoTrac and TracView aircraft tracking applications running under SunSoft Solaris on Sun Microsystems Sparcstations with high-resolution, 20-inch color monitors from Sony Corp. of America of Park Ridge, N.J.

STARS terminals are networked using routers from Bay Networks Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif.

STARS has nearly 400,000 lines of custom code, written in C and included in the 1.2 million lines of code in the Raytheon applications.

FAA expects that by the time it completes the STARS rollout in 2008, it will have spent $1.4 billion on the program.

Work on STARS began in 1996. Originally, FAA included air traffic controllers only peripherally in the system's development. That raised protests from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. In 1998, Congress ordered FAA to halt plans for deploying the system and to return to the development phase to address controller concerns.

The chief concern was that FAA planned to use workaround fixes for functions the new system could not do or could not do properly in the version that FAA wanted to roll out two years ago. A team of controllers had identified 98 items that they said needed modification or repair.

'Controllers are very busy,' said Bill Blackmer, NATCA director for safety and technology. 'A workaround issue has an enormous impact.'

To incorporate the design improvements, FAA last April revised its deployment strategy. It chose El Paso and Syracuse as the initial deployment sites to fully test the system before a national rollout.

'Air traffic control is a complex interplay between man and machine, and these early deployments are to enable the FAA to evaluate and assess the system at facilities with fewer and less-complex air traffic operations,' the agency said in statement.

Final polishing

Before continuing with installations, Raytheon and FAA will tweak the system until they are satisfied that all computer-to-human interface problems have been resolved. FAA will then deploy the final version of STARS at the two sites before beginning implementations at other locations, officials said.

FAA will announce the full-scale rollout schedule soon.

Meanwhile, DOD will begin installing STARS at its sites before the final shakedown at Syracuse and El Paso. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., will be the first military base to use STARS. It and other DOD facilities will upgrade to the final version later.

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