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NATCA Hails Controller Efforts on STARS Success, Questions FAA’s Commitment to Modernization - (6/9/2003)

PHILADELPHIA – Tireless dedication and outstanding effort by Philadelphia air traffic controllers has resulted in seven months of safe, smooth operation of the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS) since the equipment was officially turned on.

“Controllers have always been at the forefront of the drive for new technology,” said National Air Traffic Controllers Association President John Carr. “In Philadelphia, they pushed very hard to be the first to receive STARS and worked hard to make it a success. The only reason STARS is finally succeeding after a long and difficult history is because controllers have moved the technology forward every step of the way in the program’s development, testing and implementation process. In Philadelphia, controllers’ contributions were critical to ensuring this equipment was usable, fit the operational needs of the facility and was a safe, effective and reliable tool in managing the region’s busy airspace.”

Controllers say STARS works in Philadelphia and cite its reliability, satisfaction in using it and vast improvement over old systems to monitor aircraft in the terminal environment, guiding movements within 40 miles of the airport.

“Previous Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Jane Garvey inherited an air traffic control system that was deteriorating but her strategy of build a little, test a little, deploy a little got more new technology in the door in her five years than during the previous few decades combined,” Carr stated. “New FAA Administrator Marion Blakey has inherited an air traffic control system that is the envy of the world. And it is not just the technology that is now ready for implementation. She has a controller workforce that is anxiously waiting for it. She’s the luckiest woman in Washington.”

But the future for STARS appears uncertain. Even as the FAA celebrates the STARS success in Philadelphia today, it has said that it plans to deploy only seven new systems this year around the country, not 18 as originally scheduled. Carr questioned the FAA’s commitment to modernization.

“Clearly, the STARS deployment waterfall has turned into a trickle,” Carr remarked. “This is demoralizing to a lot of the controller workforce. STARS works and there is no reason why every terminal facility in the country shouldn’t have it. Controllers are clamoring for it.” Carr called today’s commissioning of the STARS project in Philadelphia “bittersweet,” because “the FAA’s previously well-charted course for modernizing the air traffic control system has hit choppy waters.”

STARS is one of many projects stalling in the FAA’s juggling act of shifting priorities. NATCA is also affirming its strong support for the Controller-Pilot Data Link Communications Program, which was shelved last week by the FAA. The program, which frees up valuable radio frequency capacity by allowing controllers and pilots to communicate some information with computer text messages, has long been hailed by controllers as a valuable modernization tool that is usable and safe.

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