FAA reviews alternatives for deploying air traffic systems

The Federal Aviation Administration next month will consider possible alternatives for jump-starting deployment of modernized air traffic systems.

The agency will review an independent analysis of a full deployment of the new Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System vs. a mixed deployment of STARS and an interim system, the Common Automated Radar Terminal System.

'The deployment of STARS is a great challenge. We are assessing a number of options,' FAA administrator Marion Blakey said yesterday during a briefing about the agency's Flight Plan 2004-2008.

The Transportation Department inspector general had recommended that FAA get an outside review of the STARS program. FAA tapped Mitre Corp. of Bedford, Mass., to evaluate deployment alternatives.

STARS is an open-architecture system that displays aircraft and other data for controllers on high-resolution color monitors. Common ARTS is a bridge technology that FAA has been deploying until STARS becomes available to controllers nationwide. But the IG questioned the superiority of STARS.

The IG last month urged FAA to consider a hybrid deployment to make the best use of the roughly $221 million the agency has available currently for deploying air traffic systems. Blakey questioned the recommendation because of 'the efficiencies and economies of handling two systems.'

Mitre began its review a couple of weeks ago and should submit its analysis next month, said Steven Brown, associate administrator for air traffic services. Mitre had already been studying STARS cost and performance data for FAA.

Before acquiring more terminal systems to complete its modernization, the IG also said FAA needed to reconcile differences between contractor Raytheon Co.'s billings and FAA's accounting. FAA said it would complete that audit by year-end.

FAA also said it would develop new cost estimates and update its benefits analysis. But the IG said the estimates won't be credible unless FAA improves its management of the contract.

'The program office has not implemented an effective process to manage contract costs or determined what it will cost to add needed upgrades to STARS,' the IG said in its report.

The IG also questioned FAA's estimate of $281 million in future cost savings through STARS use. More than half of the savings would come from transferring costs from the FAA's facilities and equipment budget to the operations budget, the report said.

FAA had planned to deploy STARS at 18 airports this year but will install less than half that number because of budget cuts. (Click here to link to June 16 GCN story)

The agency's estimate of the total cost of STARS has risen from $940 million in 1996 to $2.54 billion to fund the program through 2030. The current figure includes $153 million for implementation at 74 airports through 2008.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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