FAA to revamp air traffic backbone

The Federal Aviation Administration last week awarded a five-year, $1.7 billion contract to Harris Corp. to modernize and manage the telecommunications infrastructure for air traffic control.

Under the FAA Telecommunications Infrastructure contract, the company will work with the agency to phase out old communications systems and replace them with the FTI backbone, which it will operate and maintain.

'This is one of the most critical contracts for the safety of the air traffic in the non-Defense part of the federal government,' said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting Inc. of Jenkintown, Pa.

The network will provide voice, data and video services and replace FAA-owned multiplexing and switching networks, as well as other leased telecom services.

FAA's telecom network, the Leased Interfacility NAS Communications System, which currently supports the nation's air traffic control systems, will become part of FTI.

LINCS, which is used to transmit radar, weather and other data, links 5,000 locations and serves more than 14,000 connections, letting air traffic controllers communicate with each other and with pilots.

'FTI is a critical element of our overall plan to modernize the national airspace system,' FAA administrator Jane F. Garvey said.

If FAA exercises all options under the performance-based contract, the FTI deal could run 15 years and be worth $3.5 billion. The new network will support FAA, Defense Department and Coast Guard air traffic facilities.

FAA officials estimated that it will take five to six years for FTI to absorb the current services and systems.

Over time, FTI will replace more networks, among them the Agency Data Telecommunications Network 2000, LINCS, the Data Multiplexing Network and FAA's Telecommunications Satellite service and FTS 2001.

Suss said Harris has a strong association with FAA and sound program management skills.

'But FAA needs to make sure that FTI does not run into overhead costs,' he said.

FTI will give FAA greater control of the network contract, Suss said. The Defense IT Contracting Office at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., has administered previous air traffic control telecommunications contracts.

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