The Final Transition to STARS
Nearly two decades after the initial deployment of the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS), NATCA and the FAA have marked a collaboration milestone on National Airspace System (NAS) modernization: the completion of the deployment waterfall. The last facility was Grand Canyon ATCT (GCN), marking the deployment of STARS G4 and G4 ELITE at nearly 150 TRACONS and 470 towers.
STARS provides air traffic controllers throughout the NAS with a state-of-the-art radar display system, giving controllers the tools to improve efficiency, increase service to the user, and enhance safety. STARS was the automation system chosen by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to help move the NAS into the future and meet the goals of NextGen.
“Unfortunately, the first installation of STARS was halted due to a lack of funding,” said NATCA National Terminal Automation Modernization and Replacement (TAMR) Rep and Minneapolis TRACON (M98) member Kyle Ness. “Once funding was restarted, Allentown ATCT (ABE) was the first facility to cut over to STARS in 2014.”
The road to full deployment has been marked by the Union and the Agency meeting unique challenges at many facilities. For example, at Joshua Control Facility (JCF), they have some characteristics of an en route center on one side, and terminal radar control on the other, with a huge amount of airspace in contrast to the typical TRACON. They used REHOST prior to STARS. REHOST was a radar system specifically designed for the facility years ago to accommodate all its nuances: high performance military aircraft, civil aircraft, commercial flights, rockets, UAVs, and space missions like the Virgin Galactic first commercial flight into orbit.
“Since JCF has extensive airspace, it requires multiple radar sites,” said JCF FacRep Chrissy Lewis. “Despite all of the challenges leading up to the day of transition, I could not be prouder of the professionalism, dedication, teamwork, and motivation from all the members on that day. Kyle and Denver TRACON (D01) member Jason Rose were right there to help and were supportive through the whole process.”
Atlanta TRACON (A80) member Jon Bealles, who assisted with his facility transition, said they developed a training plan based on plans done at other facilities and then added their own site-specific information. “Once our members were trained, we had a STARS scope put in at a backup location on the floor,” he said. “Controllers had a chance to work with it and get comfortable before we made the big cutover.
Added Ness, “With the STARS system in place, there is now a single automation platform in the terminal NAS. Software and hardware maintenance is improved, new controller functionality is deployed more quickly, training is simplified, all resulting in cost-savings to the Agency. STARS is a system capable of growth and many enhancements are yet to come that will help controllers do their job successfully. This helps us to ensure a better and safer NAS.”