This is off the UTU union web site
New air-traffic system delayed
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A government audit released Monday (Nov. 29) indicates the FAA's timetable for replacing some of its most antiquated air-traffic control equipment has slipped again and costs continue to climb, according to this report by Jon Hilkevitch published by the Chicago Tribune.
The Federal Aviation Administration is now rethinking its approach to modernizing computers that are used by radar facilities across the nation to direct aircraft flying at low altitudes near airports--"a long overdue step that should have been taken several years ago," according to the audit by Kenneth Mead, inspector general in the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The FAA's terminal radar control facility in Elgin won't have the new system--called STARS--in place until fiscal 2008, three years behind schedule. In the interim, the audit recommended the FAA immediately replace the display scopes at Elgin and three other major facilities with color displays, using existing computer systems that are not associated with STARS.
"The antiquated system we are working with today is pushed to the limit every day," said Ray Gibbons, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association in Elgin. "The radar scopes frequently lock up, and the locations of aircraft do not update on the screen. Sooner or later, the dam is going to burst."
Controllers in Elgin direct planes approaching and departing O'Hare International Airport, Midway Airport and a cluster of satellite airports.
STARS, the centerpiece of the FAA's modernization effort to manage the airspace near airports, is intended to give air-traffic controllers more information on their radar scopes by providing vivid color digital displays of aircraft positions.
But the cost has grown from $940 million in 1996 to more than $2 billion today, the audit said. The system is several years behind schedule and will be deployed at fewer facilities than the 172 radar centers for which it was originally envisioned.
STARS, short for Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System, also makes weather data easier to interpret so controllers can quickly steer aircraft away from dangerous conditions.
STARS is replacing 1970s-era computer scopes that plot aircraft positions mostly with simplistic patterns of diagonal lines.
The aging equipment, in addition to being poorly suited for current traffic levels, is prone to failure and has memory limitations that make it difficult to update software, controllers say.
Problems with developing the computer software for the Chicago region are expected to take at least two more years to work out and cost $57 million, the audit said.
(The preceding report by Jon Hilkevitch was published by the Chicago Tribune on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2004.)
November 30, 2004 http://www.utu.org/worksite/detail_news.cfm?ArticleID=17994