FAA OKs rollout of first phase of telecom network

The Federal Aviation Administration has approved deployment of its new telecommunications backbone to 27 facilities.

FAA telecom manager Steve Dash said Wednesday that the in-service decision made Dec. 23 was a major milestone for the $3.5 billion FAA Telecommunications Infrastructure program.

'It is the first phase of deploying the network,' Dash said. 'It will tie together the major operational facilities across the backbone.'

The new network is expected to be operational at all 27 facilities by September. Dash said a decision to proceed with a second phase of deployment that would extend the network to the agency's remaining 5,000 locations is expected in July.

The FTI program now is slightly ahead of schedule for meeting its September 2007 deadline.

'We had set a goal of early '04 for the first initial service delivery,' Dash said. 'We were glad to get it in December.'

The FAA in July 2002 awarded a 15-year contract to Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla., to provide and manage the new WAN that will tie together 5,000 manned and unmanned air traffic control sites with voice, video and data links. Harris is overseeing a team of a dozen telecom and networking vendors, including the regional Bell operating companies, Sprint Corp. and Raytheon Co. They will migrate five different FAA networks and a variety of subnets to the new backbone.

The agency tested the backbone technologies in the fall of 2003 at air route traffic control centers in Kansas City, Mo., and Fort Worth, Texas. These sites are tied to Harris's network operations control center in Melbourne and will become fully operational on the new network in February.

The 27 sites going onto the backbone in Phase 1 include the remainder of FAA's major air route traffic control centers, its campus facilities in Atlantic City, N.J., and Oklahoma, the Air Traffic Command and Control Center at Herndon, Va., and the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge, Mass.

The second phase would extend the network to about 600 manned sites, including 349 air traffic control facilities, and thousands of unmanned remote sites, such as radar locations.

Dash said the types of traffic and methods of transfer carried on the Phase 1 portion of the network are similar to current traffic. Phase 2 sites will require some additional interface testing not needed for the first phase.

The FTI program cost includes a capital investment of about $300 million but should produce operational cost savings of about $700 million over the life of the program, Dash said.

'It costs a lot to run a lot of networks,' he said.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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