[Avionics Today 12-26-2014] The FAA issued a $350 million contract modification to Raytheon to continue its deployment of the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS) at Air Traffic Control (ATC) centers throughout the National Airspace System (NAS). According to Raytheon, under the new funding modification, STARS will be implemented at 135 ATCs through September 2017.
STARS in use at a DoD Air Traffic Control facility. Photo: Raytheon.
"STARS is now operating at 150 FAA and [Department of Defense] DoD terminal air traffic control facilities and the performance of the system has been exceptional," Michael Espinola, managing director, Raytheon Air Traffic Systems, said in a statement.
STARS is part of the FAA's overall NextGen program modernization of the U.S. Air Traffic Control system, replacing the legacy Automated Radar Terminal System (ARTS) with a single automation platform, under the Terminal Automation Modernization and Replacement (TAMR) initiative. The STARS system integrates radar data and flight plan information and presents it on high resolution color displays, replacing the outdated Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) displays that many controllers are still using. It receives and processes reports, weather, and other messages from terminals and other sensors, and provides aircraft position information.
Furthermore, STARS helps to enable the use of other NextGen technologies, such as directly using surveillance data from Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B) ground stations. The direct use of ADS-B surveillance data was not possible with the legacy ARTS technology.
While STARS is a major aspect of the FAA's NextGen program, its deployment has faced delays due to a combination of different factors. For example, in August the U.S. Department of Transportation's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) sent a memorandum to the FAA noting some issues with the software associated with the deployment of STARS at the Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) facility.
However, the delays have not all been due to technological issues. Paul Rinaldi, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), outlined the importance of STARS implementation throughout the NAS during a November hearing held by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee examining issues that the FAA is facing with the roll out of NextGen programs. Rinaldi told the committee that the combination of the 2013 government shutdown and major spending cuts to the FAA's budget known as sequestration had a major impact on the STARS program.
"STARS will maintain the safety and increase the efficiency of the NAS. Sequestration cuts and the 2013 government shutdown caused a ripple effect for testing and deployment, creating delays," said Rinaldi. "NATCA subject matter experts (SMEs) are working in all areas of the TAMR program and finding solutions to problems that have plagued modernization efforts in the past. Currently, installation of equipment and modernization projects are underway in TRACON facilities across the country including: Northern California, Southern California, New York, Atlanta, Denver, Chicago, Louisville, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Potomac, Fort Myers, Harrisburg, Tampa, Seattle, Salt Lake, and Orlando. The FAA and NATCA have been working diligently to keep TAMR and STARS more or less on target despite funding challenges."
Another challenging aspect of STARS deployment is similar to all of the other ATC-related elements of NextGen. As Mitch Herrick, the NATCA national lead on terminal automation and facility realignment told Avionics Magazine during a recent interview, the transition to STARS has to occur without impacting airline schedules. Controllers have to make the transition while continuing to manage air traffic for more than 70,000 flights daily with roughly 5,000 planes in the sky at any given moment, according to Rinaldi.
The STARS technology is capable of tracking up to 1,350 airborne aircraft simultaneously within a terminal area, and the system interfaces with multiple radars, 128 controller positions, 20 remote towers and a 400 by 400 mile area of coverage, according to Raytheon.
With the latest Raytheon contract modification, all major airports through the NAS and more than 90 percent of terminal airspace under FAA control will be using the system by 2017.