Raytheon denies problems with STARS

Raytheon Co., is disputing news reports that an air traffic control software system it is about to introduce at an East Coast airport has major flaws.

The Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System, or STARS, is a $1.3 billion project to replace outdated computer equipment used to control air traffic within 50 miles of an airport. STARS, which is being tested in Memphis, Tenn., is slated for deployment Nov. 18 at the air traffic facility in Philadelphia.

The General Accounting Office issued a report Sept. 17 asserting that some critical software issues remained to be resolved by Raytheon before the system is deployed, but that the biggest challenge before the deployment is completing personnel training.

Following the GAO report, articles by the Associated Press and other media outlets described STARS as containing major flaws that "will jeopardize air safety if not fixed." In a prepared statement issued Sept. 20, the company disputed this interpretation of the report.

In the report itself, the GAO stated that as of Aug. 30, there were five type-1 Problem Trouble Reports, or PTRs. If not corrected, those might prevent operational or mission-essential capability or jeopardize safety.

At that time, the GAO reported, there also remained 68 type-2 PTRs, problems that adversely affected capabilities but did not prevent their execution. These classes of problems are Raytheon's to correct before deployment of STARS.

Raytheon spokeswoman Blanche Necessary said there are no outstanding type-1 problems. The number of type-2 problems has been reduced to 18 and a plan is in place to resolve them by the end of September, more than six weeks before the Philadelphia deployment, she said. Raytheon characterized the software problems as "not atypical for a test program of a large complex, software intensive system."

The company agreed with the GAO's conclusion that training of both air traffic controllers and maintenance technicians must be completed before the STARS rollout. But the GAO reported that is an FAA responsibility. Agency officials did not return phone calls by press time.

STARS has had a troubled history. Raytheon of Lexington, Mass., won the contract in 1996, and the original plan was for a system using commercially available technology to be installed at 172 facilities across the country, at a cost of $940 million. But in 1997, after air traffic controllers tested and found wanting an early version of the system, the FAA decided to develop a more customized, software-intensive system, which both boosted the price tag and stretched out the delivery schedule.

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