At FAA, security takes front and center role

At FAA, security takes front and center role

'We are now putting money in security areas, which we did not anticipate [doing] before.'

The Federal Aviation Administration has decided to delay several elements of its air traffic control systems modernization and accelerate others as it reassesses its mission in the wake of Sept. 11.

The agency in December released the second version of its 10-year, $11.5 billion air traffic control modernization plan. Its long-term goal of improving controller operations remains the same, but security concerns have taken on a new importance, FAA administrator Jane F. Garvey said.

'We have to make smart choices,' Garvey said. 'We are now putting money in security areas, which we did not anticipate [doing] before.'

FAA will also speed the rollout of the User Request Evaluation Tool. But it will delay deploying the Controller Pilot Data Link Communications System, which requires a financial commitment from the cash-strapped airline industry, and the Passive Final Approach Spacing Tool.

Lockheed Martin Corp. is building the $200 million User Request Evaluation Tool. It will give air traffic controllers a 20 minute advance look at traffic to detect potential conflicts and assess pilots' requests for altitude and route changes.

FAA originally planned to deploy the software at seven sites this year and at 10 more air traffic centers over the next 10 years.

The agency now will install the tool at all the centers as soon as possible, said Charles E. Keegan, FAA's modernization leader.

FAA elected to delay the Controller Pilot Data Link Communications System because it would require airlines to pay between $10,000 and $25,000 apiece to equip each aircraft with new radio technology, he said.

The system would let air traffic controllers and flight crews exchange e-mail instead of voice messages. It would divert routine exchanges to a data channel, freeing the voice channel for critical communications such as weather and traffic updates.

FAA planned to deliver the system nationwide by next year but has pushed the rollout to 2005, Keegan said. The agency will test the system at its Miami center in June.

R. John Hansman, director of the International Center for Air Transportation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, criticized FAA's approach to modernization, and said the agency seeks agreement from all participants, such as air traffic controllers, pilots and the airline industry, before it will move forward on necessary projects.

'In the wake of Sept. 11, the airlines are in survival mode, and it's difficult to convince airlines on the investment basis,' he said. 'In the consensus-based approach, it's extremely difficult to identify independent benefits to justify an investment.'

He said FAA should require airlines to invest in the technology even if they have trouble paying for it.

'But FAA is not in a position to do that because it hasn't done the homework of understanding the global benefits' of the data communication system, Hansman added.

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