[Avionics Today 04-02-2015] The FAA's Terminal Automation Modernization and Replacement (TAMR) program has started out strong in 2015, hitting a number of major milestones. Among them, the program recently deployed the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS) at the Midland (MAF) and Louisville Standiford (SDF) Air Traffic Control (ATC) facilities.
The new STARS radar displays installed at MAF. Photo: NATCA.
TAMR is an initiative within the overall NextGen airspace modernization project to upgrade Air Traffic Control (ATC) system’s Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) facilities throughout the National Airspace System (NAS) with STARS. STARS receives radar data and flight plan information and presents it to air traffic controllers on high resolution color displays, allowing them to monitor, control and hand-off air traffic. It is a replacement of the legacy Common Automated Radar Terminal System (CARTS) that has been in use in the NAS for more than 40 years. Unlike CARTS, STARS is capable of receiving multiple surveillance inputs, including Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), helping the FAA achieve its goal of transitioning Air Traffic Management (ATM) to a singular automation system. So far, in 2015, STARS has reached initial operating capability at the Northern California TRACON (NCT) and Fort Myers (RSW).
The FAA has divided the TAMR program into two segments, with Segment 1 featuring the largest facilities throughout the NAS including the Atlanta, Chicago and New York TRACONS, and Segment 2, which features medium and smaller-sized facilities that need the upgrade. According to Doug Peterson, who serves as the Segment 1 Lead for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), the Louisville transition to STARS is going to help with the testing of ADS-B positioning, because of the strong flow of Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B)-equipped UPS aircraft streaming in and out of the airspace on a daily basis.
"There’s been a limited ability to test how well ADS-B works on any of our systems so far because not that many aircraft are equipped yet," said Peterson. "The exception to that is Louisville, because UPS was an industry leader for us there. They adopted ADS-B equipage early and helped us trouble shoot the entire process of how ADS-B was going to work, how fusion was going to work for us, and we’ve been doing that in the old system at Louisville for a number of years. Now we're able to see how that ADS-B surveillance works in the new system consistently."
Another benefit provided by the continued transition to STARS is that it could help with facility consolidation, which the FAA is required to complete under Section 804 of the 2012 FAA reauthorization bill, Mitch Herrick, NATCA's National TAMR Representative, told Avionics Magazine.
"Section 804 is the section of the FAA reauthorization bill that requires the FAA to consolidate facilities," said Herrick. "STARS can take multiple radar sources, link them all together, fuse them together (including ADS-B), and display them all on one radar screen as one target. Because of the new technology and the capability of utilizing one system for multiple radar sources, we may find the ability to eliminate some infrastructure and reduce capital operating cost because we no longer have to have two buildings or two different systems to support the different surveillance sources."
Both Herrick and Peterson also believe one of the biggest benefits of the transition to STARS is the replacement of the aging Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) display screen technology, which originated in the 1960s and is still being used today while high definition display technology has become standard in every environment — especially aviation.
The old CRT displays that were previously used at MAF by air traffic controllers. Photo: NATCA.
"It's like going from a black and white grainy television using aluminum foil, to using a high-definition television. The difference is so striking you can’t even describe it," said Herrick.
Another major aspect of this continued transition to the new automation system is that the controllers replace the old technology without disrupting the flow of air traffic. NATCA estimates that more than 70,000 flights and 2 million passengers are handled daily by controllers with roughly 5,000 aircraft in the sky at any given moment.
"These are not minor transitions. We have done Dallas, Denver, San Francisco — these are Core-30 airports. If there was a delay at one of those airports it would be notable across the entire NAS," said Peterson.
The FAA plans on installing STARS equipment at 21 facilities in 2015, and a total of 90 through 2018. Herrick said the success of the continued transition to STARS will rely on NATCA and the FAA continuing to move forward by avoiding past failed attempts at STARS deployment. As far back as the mid 1990s, the FAA made failed attempts to transition to a new automation system, but now it is finally happening.
"The FAA has tried to transition to a single automation system for 40 years and has been unsuccessful; and we’re now doing that in the TAMR program," said Herrick. "We’ve learned a lot of things by looking at previous failures of the old STARS program from 20 years ago and the [En Route Automation Modernization] ERAM program. A lot of lessons learned have been captured so that we’re doing it right because of that. We’ve learned from the mistakes in the past and we’re accomplishing something that the agency has previously been unable to accomplish."