Hill scrutinizes STARS project

Hill scrutinizes STARS project

A lawmaker has asked for an independent review of the troubled Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System air traffic control project, despite assurances from the Federal Aviation Administration and Raytheon Co. that the system is on track.

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation, said during a March hearing that he wants independent experts to help him evaluate the validity of information provided by FAA and Raytheon.

'It's like getting your hands around a greased pig,' Mica said about the claims of progress on STARS. 'You think you've got your hands on it, but it slips away. I would have liked to pin them down a bit better.'

Figuring out the status of the STARS program 'is like getting your hands around a greased pig.'

Mica did not identify the experts who will be conducting the review, but said it will be finished in time for a follow-up hearing on STARS he has scheduled for early June.

Switch in midstream?

FAA officials said they want to continue with STARS, but Mica's continuing skepticism follows a proposal from Raytheon competitor Lockheed Martin Corp. that FAA replace STARS with Lockheed's Common ARTS air traffic control system [GCN, March 19, Page 23]. Common ARTS has been deployed in more than 130 airports as an interim solution while STARS is under development.

STARS will automate air traffic control functions that guide aircraft as they approach airports. The STARS contract, valued at about $950 million, was awarded to Raytheon in 1996.

Kenneth M. Mead, inspector general for the Transportation Department, testified that the program's cost has already increased to $1.4 billion, and he 'wouldn't be surprised if it [comes out] in the neighborhood of $1.75 billion to $2 billion.'

Mead also said the timetable for STARS, which originally was to be installed in civilian air traffic control centers by 2005, has slipped by almost four years'to late 2008. Installation at military air traffic control centers was to be completed by 2007 but has slipped to 2011.

Just before last month's hearing, Lockheed Martin announced it intended to submit an unsolicited proposal to replace STARS with its Common ARTS system. Don Antonucci, president of Lockheed's air traffic management unit, testified at the hearing that Common ARTS could meet FAA's long-term needs.

Steven Zaidman, FAA's associate administrator for research and acquisitions, testified in support of continuing with Raytheon on STARS.

'In my opinion, [either] of the two systems will get the job done,' he said, but 'it's like spending several years in a rowboat. We don't want to change boats now.'


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