FAA officially launches STARS in Philadelphia

The Federal Aviation Administration today commissioned its long-awaited advanced air traffic control system at Philadelphia International Airport.

The event signaled that FAA is ready to deploy nationwide its Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System, which had been plagued early on with cost overruns and program glitches.

STARS is a key part of the agency's modernization program. 'A significant part of our nation's future airspace system has arrived today in Philadelphia,' said FAA administrator Marion Blakey.

Philadelphia, the first airport to operate STARS outside of the original test airports in El Paso, Texas, and Syracuse, N.Y., has operated officially with STARS for seven months. The union that represents the FAA's information systems workers, the Professional Airways Systems Specialists, signed off on STARS' technical performance before it went operational in Philadelphia. But it was up to the air traffic controllers to reduce any real-world glitches.

Air traffic controllers have embraced the system. 'The only reason STARS is finally succeeding after a long and difficult history is because controllers have moved the technology forward every step of the way in the program's development, testing and implementation process,' said National Air Traffic Controllers Association president John Carr.

STARS is in the Philadelphia Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) center. Controllers use the system to separate and sequence arriving and departing aircraft and provide traffic alerts and weather advisories.

The system can integrate data from up to 16 separate radars, capture accurate local weather information and track as many as 1,350 aircraft in a 60-mile radius, giving controllers a more detailed and accurate picture of passenger airline traffic, the FAA said.

Philadelphia's airport also has installed a new Airport Surveillance Radar Model 11 that supplies digital data to STARS; a runway safety alerting system called the Airport Movement Area Safety System; the Precision Runway Monitor radar that allows pilots to perform precision approaches; an automated predeparture flight clearance system called Tower Data Link Service, and a new TRACON facility featuring innovative design features for air traffic control.

Under a joint FAA and Defense Department program, STARS will replace computers and displays at 74 airports and air traffic facilities through 2008, although even that schedule is in doubt.

FAA said today it switched the Portland, Ore., airport to STARS. Through the remainder of the year, STARS is scheduled to be installed at airports in Boston; Miami; Milwaukee; Port Columbus, Ohio; San Antonio, Texas; and Seattle-Tacoma, Wash.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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