Modernization Takes Time

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A massive effort to replace communications and data lines that stitch together the air traffic control system is (surprise, surprise) behind schedule and not achieving its financial goals, according to the New York Times. The Times story also says the program has caused three failures that resulted in flight delays. However, Harris Corp., which won the contract to do the conversion, said in a news release last week that the work is on schedule and will reduce the FAA's costs. The program, called the FAA Telecommunications Infrastructure, was awarded to Harris Corp. three years ago, and will replace all the lines linking 4,400 installations, including remote mountain radio and radar sites. It's supposed to be done by the end of the year but likely won't be finished until the end of 2007, according to the Times story. The delays will eat into the cost savings that were supposed to result from its completion. Part of the problem seems to be transition from the Verizon-run old system and the Harris takeover. Ideally, Harris's installation should coincide with Verizon's decommissioning of equipment but that doesn't always happen. "It's a dis-coordinated process," Verizon spokesman Jerry Edgerton told the Times. He said the company will follow orders to disconnect lines and then "in total panic mode they sent us re-connect orders." In some cases, such instances trap aircraft on the ground. On March 6, a new Harris line failed in Chicago, knocking out radar service. The FAA said the old Verizon line (which presumably worked) had been disconnected prematurely. The Times said scores of flights were delayed.