FAA makes progress on satellite communications

But work on a network that carries the most critical radar and weather data in the country’s air traffic control system has fallen behind schedule.

The Federal Aviation Administration has made headway on a satellite communications network that is part of a major FAA telecommunications overhaul, according to contractors.

By consolidating multiple telecom networks into one, the FAA Telecommunications Infrastructure (FTI) program intends to save hundreds of millions of dollars in operating costs.

FAA officials and FTI contractors held a ribbon-cutting ceremony July 19 in Woodbine, Md., the site of the first of two ground hubs for the FTI satellite communications network, or FTI-SAT. The Woodbine hub and another ground station in California will serve as the downlink sites for all remote antennae that are part of the FTI-SAT network.

Harris is the prime contractor for FTI.

"The satellite network will serve as critical links within the overall FTI network, providing all of the FAA’s remote sites with the best communications technology available for the best value,” said John O’Sullivan, FTI program vice president at the Harris Government Communications Systems Division.

FTI-SAT will replace the FAA Telecommunications Satellite System. The new FTI-SAT network will allow the agency to use satellite, microwave or telecom technology to provide the most economical communications services. To date, 30 of 43 satellite sites have been installed. Activation will be completed by the end of August, Harris officials said.

Harris is in charge of connecting the FTI-SAT network to the FAA's Air Route Traffic Control Centers and to the FTI Primary Network Operations and Control Center.

Meanwhile, work on a separate network that carries the most critical radar and weather data in the country’s air traffic control system, FTI’s first priority, has fallen behind schedule. Last month, the FAA announced it was seeking to negotiate a single-source follow-on contract for the existing network, which is called the Leased Interfacility National Airspace System Communications System Bridge.

Auditors from the Government Accountability Office are concerned that the FAA will not accrue the full extent of the $672 million in cost savings the program was expected to produce. GAO officials have proposed abandoning FTI and outsourcing telecom services, if delays continue.