On Monday, air traffic controllers in Philadelphia officially began "STARS gazing." That's when the FAA commissioned the Raytheon-built Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS) servicing the Philadelphia International Airport. Philadelphia is the first major airport to fully deploy STARS. Raytheon claims STARS is a highly reliable air traffic automation system that provides new high-resolution color displays, new computer processing and communication equipment, six-level display of weather, multi-radar tracking and easy and rapid incorporation of new hardware and software features. ] STARS is a joint procurement for the FAA and the Department of Defense. The FAA plans to install STARS in a total of 167 TRACONs (Terminal Radar Approach Controls) and up to nine terminal support facilities. The STARS FS-2+ system started working at Philadelphia on Nov. 17, 2002, and since that time, the system has been thoroughly evaluated by the FAA, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and the Professional Airways Systems Specialists, resulting in Monday's STARS commissioning.
...But NATCA Questions FAA's Commitment
Now that it is fully operational, the FAA claims STARS replaces the older-generation technology with "an advanced air traffic system with greater capability to meet capacity needs for years to come." However, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) doesn't completely see it that way. The organization claims the controllers, not the FAA, are the reason this system is now operational. "Controllers have always been at the forefront of the drive for new technology," said NATCA President John Carr. "In Philadelphia, they pushed very hard to be the first to receive STARS and worked hard to make it a success," he added. ) NATCA also questions the FAA claim that STARS will become a widespread system throughout the National Airspace System. "Clearly, the STARS deployment waterfall has turned into a trickle," Carr said, noting the FAA now plans to deploy only seven new systems this year around the country, not 18 as originally scheduled. As for the FAA's plan to have 188 installed over the next several years, that number has been slashed to 74. The FAA says it plans to deploy STARS at "facilities deemed most critical over the next several years as funding permits."