IG: More delays are likely in the STARS

IG: More delays are likely in the STARS

House panel hears why FAA's upgrade of air traffic control network will arrive at the airport late

BY PREETI VASISHTHA | GCN STAFF

The Federal Aviation Administration's five-year-old project to upgrade air traffic control terminals continues to be at risk for delays and cost overruns, Transportation Department officials said this month.

At a House hearing, an investigator in Transportation's Office of the Inspector General pointed to a tight software testing schedule for the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System, errors generated during recent testing and delays in the deployment of a related digital radar system as harbingers of further problems.


Rep. John Mica says STARS has increased in cost and missed deadlines because of 'poor management, bad decisions and unrealistic goals.'
Software testing conducted last month for the first STARS version generated more than 500 trouble reports, 112 of which were serious enough to affect the system's performance, safety or security, said Alexis M. Stefani, Transportation's assistant inspector general for auditing, at a hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation.

Through STARS, FAA plans to replace controller workstations at 170 FAA and 100 Defense Department facilities with new systems that let controllers view all data on a single color monitor.

In 1996, FAA awarded Raytheon Co. the contract for the implementation of STARS, which was estimated to cost $940 million. The plan called for installing the system at civilian facilities by February 2005 and at military air traffic centers by July 2007.

Because of changes in FAA's requirements over the years, program costs have spiraled to $1.4 billion, and deployment at FAA and Defense facilities is almost four years behind schedule.

'The test schedules of the multiple STARS configurations overlap, and time frames for testing are aggressive,' Stefani said. 'The schedule creates significant risks that delays at any testing phase could further delay STARS deployment.'

Additional complications have arisen because of efforts to upgrade the radar systems that would feed STARS information. Because STARS is fully digital, FAA planned to replace 100 analog radar systems with the digital ASR-11 radars being developed by Raytheon under a DOD contract, Stefani said.

Defense testing of the ASR-11 has identified deficiencies, including displaying nonexistent aircraft and showing misleading weather information, she said. As a result, Stefani estimated the project would slip an additional six months and affect STARS deployment.

FAA also has not identified costs associated with the full deployment of STARS in fiscal 2008, Stefani said.

FAA optimistic

Despite the tough talk from Transportation's IG, an FAA official told House lawmakers that they expect to avoid any further pitfalls and keep the project on track.

'We continue to believe that while there is STARS software development to be done, the schedule risk is manageable and consistent with our plans,' said Steven Zaidman, associate administrator of research and acquisitions at FAA.

Zaidman said an evaluation done by Mitre Corp. of Bedford, Mass., concluded the same thing.
But Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), the subcommittee's chairman, was less optimistic.

'STARS, like most FAA modernization programs, has suffered through poor management, bad decisions and unrealistic goals,' he said.

Mica promised to continue holding hearings until FAA completes STARS deployment.

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