FAA copes with legacy tech in shopping for NextGen systems

FAA copes with legacy tech in shopping for next-gen systems


The Federal Aviation Administration is preparing a review of the market for enterprise communications systems, including wide-area networks and enterprise messaging systems, as it looks toward the 2017 expiration of a contract it has relied upon for more than a decade for much of its telecom networks and services.

In a recent request for information, the agency said that as the Federal Telecommunications Infrastructure (FTI)-1 contract winds down, it is “considering opportunities to use new technology and new service delivery models to improve its telecommunication services.”

The FAA awarded the FTI-1 contract in 2002 to consolidate multiple networks into a modern, secure, integrated infrastructure.  Under the contract, the agency obtained as many as 25,000 telecommunications services to support requirements ranging from air traffic control operations to routine administrative functions.

One of the technologies FAA is interested in reviewing is time division multiplexing (TDM), a technology for sharing bandwidth by means of synchronized switching. The FAA said that for the remaining FTI contract period, major U.S. telecommunications carriers will be discontinuing TDM-based services, which “FAA is highly dependent upon.”

About 90 percent of the services required by National Airspace System (NAS) systems are TDM-based services, according to the FAA. And while FAA has plans to reduce its dependency on TDM-based services, “those initiatives are not scheduled to be completed before 2020 and do not address all communications interfaces that need to be upgraded.

“As such, the FAA operating environment will likely rely upon TDM-based services beyond 2020,” the FAA said.

As it looks forward, the FAA must also impose other unique requirements on FTI services not found in commercial service offerings, it said.

Those requirements include high availability for critical services, telecom services that can range from large air traffic control facilities to small unmanned facilities in remote locations and survivable network infrastructures that can be protected against systemwide failures.

The FAA’s current operating environment includes IP network services and enterprise messaging that relies upon a dedicated optical backbone infrastructure as well as microwave and satellite links.

During the NextGen transformation, the FAA said its legacy communications infrastructure, “will likely remain in place due to the large number of legacy interfaces for critical NAS systems.”

However, its future communications infrastructure will need to continue providing enterprise services, “that are robust, scalable and secure to satisfy producers and consumers of NAS data that continues to grow dramatically and where future growth is difficult to predict,” the agency said.

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