...WAAS, STARS, And Much More Scaled Back Or Deferred.....

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Among the projects facing cuts or delays is the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS), which became available on a limited basis last July. Mead says the FAA has revised its expectations for the program and now says WAAS will not be capable of providing Category I performance at most of the nation's airports. The reduced expectations mean a cut in funding. Also facing a reduction in planned deployment is STARS, the new radar system that has been plagued by cost overruns and implementation delays. Mead said the FAA will complete the first 50 installations of STARS, but plans for a second phase of 23 more sites have been suspended. So far, 19 of the systems are in operation.

Other new technologies facing cuts are the Local Area Augmentation System (LAAS), a new precision approach and landing system that was not as mature as the FAA expected. Category I LAAS was planned for 2006, and more demanding Category II / III performance is now a research-and-development effort with uncertain completion dates, Mead said. The FAA now believes it will take considerably longer, as much as 21 months, to complete just the first phase of LAAS. Also, the FAA is deferring plans to implement Controller-Pilot Data Link Communications because of concerns (1) about how quickly users would equip with new avionics, (2) that the approved program baseline of $167 million was materially understated and no longer valid, and (3) about the impact on the operations account, which is already overburdened. Also, the effort to replace aging analog radios with the digital Next Generation Air-to-Ground Communications System (NEXCOM) is under review, as costs for implementation run into the billions of dollars. NEXCOM was controversial with airlines because of the FAA's preferred technology. While the FAA will move forward with replacing older radios, Mead said, it has postponed making decisions about NEXCOM ground system development. The FAA already has obligated over $800 million on WAAS and expects to spend $100 million more on the system in fiscal year 2005. The FAA's decision not to pursue Category I performance will reduce the overall WAAS baseline costs by $300 to $400 million. "The [WAAS] program has a long history of uncertainty regarding how much the system will cost, when it will be delivered, and what benefits can be obtained," Mead said.