STARS system sparks sharp exchange of words

Federal Aviation Administration head Jane Garvey has returned fire in a war of words with the Transportation Department's Office of the Inspector General over the safety and reliability of a new air traffic control system slowly being rolled out across the country.

A June 3 memorandum released by Kenneth Mead, the inspector general, was critical of the FAA's handling of the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System, or STARS, the Raytheon Co. program to upgrade major portions of the U.S. air traffic control system.

The memo made headlines across the country in stories reporting that the IG had found STARS to be seriously flawed and unready for installation.

The FAA quickly rejected the memo's claims.

"I was disappointed to learn that the June 3 memorandum to me had been released before we had a chance to respond," Garvey said in a June 5 memo rebutting the IG's report. "We fundamentally disagree with your conclusions."

Raytheon of Lexington, Mass., also contends that STARS is sound.

"We believe the concerns over STARS expressed by the inspector general ... and by the Professional Airways Systems Specialists are not well founded," the company said in a prepared statement.

FAA spokesman William Shumann said the disagreement would not change the agency's plans for STARS.

"I wouldn't speculate about the future," Shumann said when asked what might happen next. "The IG has spoken, we have spoken, we disagree, and we are going about deploying STARS."

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