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Controllers and FAA Clear the Path for Progress in ATC Modernization - (5/5/1998)

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- An unprecedented collaboration between the nation's air traffic controllers and the Federal Aviation Administration is clearing the way for progress in modernizing the country's air traffic control system.

National Air Traffic Controllers Association President Mike McNally told the House aviation subcommittee today he is pleased with the progress made with the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System and the process utilized to make those advancements, but the work must not stop with this program.

STARS is the first and only project that has had full and unlimited participation of air traffic controllers. NATCA took its concerns over STARS' operational unsuitability to Congress late last year after months of warnings to the FAA.

"While human factors have always been an integral part of procurement procedures, FAA has chosen to ignore their inclusion in the past," said McNally. "This helps explain its dismal track record in the new technology arena and led a frustrated Congress, in 1997, to take action."

The aviation subcommittee ordered the agency to perform a complete human factors study of STARS and develop a process to include controllers in all present and future technology projects. To date, 87 of the 98 problems with the technology have been addressed and suggested changes given to the contractor for cost and schedule analysis.

The "early display configuration" phase of STARS replaces a controller's current radar scope and operates off existing equipment called Automated Radar Terminal System. The ultimate goal, full STARS, introduces new technology to replace ARTS.

"NATCA is aware STARS, coupled with its own back-room equipment, will not necessarily be the same as STARS working with ARTS," said McNally. "Everyone is working hard to meet the STARS schedule, however, I need to stress the importance of getting it right the first time. If a few more months are needed in order to fix potential problems prior to implementation at National Airport, NATCA will support the extra time."

Washington National Airport is the first facility slated for implementation of the equipment. McNally acknowledged the new process for equipment procurement and development would have a price tag, but the long-term cost benefits far outweigh the initial investment. Early controller involvement saves the FAA and taxpayers money by eliminating cost overruns due to massive mid-stream modifications and increases system safety and efficiency.

"We want the FAA to establish a reputation for fielding state-of-the-art, usable and accepted technology in a timely manner," said McNally. "If STARS is any example, NATCA, with other key players, will help the agency move toward those goals."

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