...But Some Programs Prosper...

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Certainly not all aviation-related programs are looking at cuts, however. In fact, the budget provides for whopping increases in spending on some technical development systems that are years or even decades from completion. A good example is the NEXCOM system, which will eventually amalgamate all aviation communications into a single, integrated digital service. Funding jumps from $102 million this year to $172 million for 2005. Likewise the En Route Automation Program (ERAM), which will get $264 million in 2005, compared to $185 million this year. ERAM will replace the 30-year-old system that now keeps tabs on high-altitude traffic. Costs appear to have been reigned in on some notorious budget-busters like the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) and Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS). STARS and WAAS have been lumped in with the Integrated Terminal Weather System as a single budget item and their total bite out of the 2005 budget is $313 million, up only $2 million from this year. Mineta has singled out STARS as a critical factor in his capacity-increase goals but the plans to add 14 of the state-of-the-art terminal control systems falls short of even the scaled-back plans for the system. There were supposed to be 30 new STARS systems installed this year under the original schedule and that was chopped to 18 and now 14. Only Philadelphia has a fully operational STARS system, which, according to both the government and unions, works well.