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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Software on NextGen's STARS at Risk

Woodrow Bellamy III 

[Avionics Today 08-21-2014] The FAA's deployment of the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS) aspect of its NextGen program is at risk of cost overruns and delays, according to a memo sent to the agency from the Department of Transportation's Office of the Inspector General (OIG). The memo, made public by the OIG, claims that the deployment of the STARS technology suffers from unstable software requirements and lacks key safety capabilities. 
 
 
STARS display. Photo: Raytheon.
 
Raytheon, the prime contractor for the Air Traffic Controller (ATC) system upgrade, describes STARS as a command and control system that provides integration of flight plan data and aircraft surveillance for Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) facilities. The system presents air traffic information to controllers on high resolution 20 inch displays, and is planned for implementation at all 11 TRACON facilities throughout the National Airspace System (NAS). STARS is the replacement for the Common Automated Radar Terminal Systems (CARTS), currently used by TRACON controllers.
 
Currently the FAA is deploying STARS at the Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) TRACON, however the OIG reports that the system could fall short of providing "promised capabilities for controlling takeoffs and landings," which are the most critical phases of flight. In May 2013, the OIG warned of the system's failings due to a lack of stabilization for software requirements. The FAA had planned to stabilize these requirements by June 2014.
 
The DFW TRACON manages approaches and departures at airports including the DFW International Airport and Dallas Love Field. The Northern California TRACON, which manages approaches and departures for Oakland, San Francisco and several other airports, would be next in line to receive the upgrade. But the software issues could have a domino effect if it is not addressed quickly, according to the OIG memo. 
 
"While FAA planned to stabilize requirements at all 11 sites by June 2014, it has now extended this date to September 2014. Further, FAA has not determined the site-specific capabilities needed or when they will be implemented," the IG said. 
 
The FAA originally approved a $438 million budget in 2011 through 2015 to implement STARS at the 11 TRACONs, and the agency also plans to deploy the system at 97 smaller ATC facilities at a cost of $462 million through 2019. Through fiscal 2013, the agency spent nearly $338 million of the original $438 million approved to implement STARS. If the agency receives its budget request for fiscal year 2015, the approved budget will be exceeded by $19 million and will only support the deployment of STARS through five of the 11 TRACONs.
 
Furthermore, the IG also notes that one of the missing capabilities of the STARS system is a warning that alerts ATCs of a loss of separation between aircraft, which would be a major safety hazard.
 

"Until requirements are stabilized, full deployment of STARS at DFW and TRACONs nationwide will continue to be at risk of cost and schedule overruns. Because STARS is on the critical path to introducing NextGen capabilities, these risks also impact the long-term viability of NextGen," the OIG said. Check out the full memo from the OIG here.

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