FAA's Telecom Infrastructure Deal Opens New Door for Vendors

FAA's Telecom Infrastructure Deal Opens New Door for Vendors

Mike Ligas

By Jennifer Freer, Staff Writer

The Federal Aviation Administration's multibillion-dollar telecommunications infrastructure project offers new opportunities for telecom companies and systems integrators that were shut out of the General Services Administration's FTS2001 contract.

The planned 10-year, $2 billion FAA Telecommunications Infrastructure contract, known as FTI, calls for the winning contractor to replace the agency's communications systems with an integrated communications network between 2002 and 2005. The company also will manage and upgrade the new system.

The new contract will replace and expand upon several existing contracts, primarily a $588 million Leased Interfacility National Airspace Communication System contract held by WorldCom Inc. and expiring in March 2002. The FTI project is driven by the FAA's desire to save money and modernize the network, agency officials said.

Three industry teams are competing for the contract; bids for the technical and management portion of the deal were due Nov. 13. The second portion of the bid process, the pricing, is due Jan. 24, 2001, with the contract awarded by summer 2001.

The teams are led by Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla., Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, Md., and WorldCom of Clinton, Miss.

The telecommunications project will provide the FAA with many of the data and telecom services that the agency also can obtain through the Federal Technology Service 2001 contract.

The FTS2001 contract, awarded to WorldCom and Sprint Corp. of Westwood, Kan., spans eight years and is potentially worth more than $5 billion if federal agencies use it for their long-distance, data and video needs.

While the bulk of federal agencies are expected to use the FTS2001 contract for their telecom services, they are not required to do so.

Consequently, the FAA's planned telecommunications infrastructure contract gives the agency a choice between using the FTS contract and the FTI contract, said Kevin Plexico, vice president and chief technology officer at Input, a market research firm in Chantilly, Va.

"FTS2001 is not a mandatory contract, but it is an alternative for the FAA," he said.

Some services the FAA requires today can be purchased under FTS2001, but the agency plans to use FTI for many more services, said Steve Dash, manager of the acquisition management division of the FAA.

The FAA will always use FTS2001 for some services, such as calling card and 800 services, he said. Dedicated circuits and router services will migrate to the FTI vendor, he added.

Plexico also suggested the FAA is developing its own contract because it has unique needs resulting from the wide variety of communication technologies that make up its network. The FAA's willingness to shift work to the FTI contract opens up opportunities for other companies, he said.

On the Harris team, for example, is BellSouth Corp., Raytheon Co., Sprint, Qwest Communications International Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., Litton Industries Inc./Denro, CSSI Inc., High-Tec Systems and Sensis Corp.

The Lockheed team added new members Oct. 26 and now includes ARINC Inc., AT&T Corp., CACI International Inc., Motorola Inc., Jerry Thompson Associates, SETA Corp., National Aviation Research Institute, Aviation Concepts, Alcatel and Cisco Systems Inc.

WorldCom has not announced its team yet.

Verizon, part of the Harris team, sees the FTI contract as an opportunity not only to demonstrate what Verizon can do for the local telecom network, but also to introduce new technologies, such as new data services, said Randy Lucas, vice president of federal markets for Verizon Federal.

But Sprint, also part of the Harris Corp. team, is not concerned about losing any FTS2001 business.

"The FAA contract is put in place to replace old, inefficient networks," said Mike Ligas, director of business development for Sprint's Government Systems division. "I don't think it has any impact on FTS. It's not pulling business away from FTS2001."

In fact, Sprint does not have FTS2001 business with the FAA, so there will be no loss to Sprint if the Harris team loses FTI, he said.

Also, the FTI contract is not designed to replace FTS2001 business; it's designed to specifically address service and delivery issues that are beyond the scope of FTS2001.

WorldCom, the other winner of FTS2001 contract, declined to comment.

Specific requirements for FTI include:
  • Consolidating voice, data and video channels onto a common network to reduce the number of circuits and provide more efficient bandwidth.
  • The ability to reroute voice, data and video channels to improve the reliability of FAA communications.
  • The infrastructure must support the ability to switch among several providers to meet telecommunications requirements.
  • The network must monitor, control and restore connectivity and measure network performance, and be able to accommodate legacy systems.
  • The infrastructure must detect, intercept and prevent unauthorized users and protect sensitive data.

    Winning the contract and offering the different services required does not ensure that companies will keep all of FAA's business, according to Plexico.

    "Like many contracts these days, simply winning a place on the contract no longer guarantees you business," Plexico said. "It is just as important for contract holders to sell after the contract as it is important for them to be competitive in cost and service."

    For those companies on the FTS2001 contracts and on the FTI contract, it simply means they are going to have to maintain competitive pricing and compete for the business. For the FAA, it means the agency has a choice regarding which companies it uses, Plexico said.
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