FAA Seeing STARS | Citizens Against Government Waste


Press Release

For Immediate ReleaseContact: Sean Rushton/Mark Carpenter
June 7, 2002(202) 467-5300


Costly Program Could Be Dangerous

(Washington, D.C.) – Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) criticized the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today for implementing a new air traffic control system despite several warnings concerning its effectiveness, and called for more Congressional oversight of the project.  On Monday, the FAA used a contractual loophole to force the installation of the new Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS) at Syracuse Hancock International Airport in New York, despite objections from technicians in charge of certifying the equipment and Department of Transportation (DOT) Inspector General (IG) Kenneth Mead.

STARS was designed to replace outdated equipment in airport control towers at 172 FAA airports and 199 Department of Defense sites.  The project was supposed to start in 1998, and conclude in 2005, at a cost of $940.2 million.  It is currently running four years behind schedule, and the cost has skyrocketed to $1.7 billion.  In the meantime, air traffic controllers have been using the Automated Radar Terminal System (ARTS) to monitor the skies at an additional cost of $85 million.

“Someone needs to be held accountable for the mismanagement of the STARS program and the resulting waste of taxpayer money,” CAGW President Tom Schatz said.  “The FAA is rushing to finish it despite numerous safety warnings and the lack of proper testing procedures.  Meeting a deadline was obviously not a concern in the past, but all of a sudden it is − without regard to passenger safety.”

The FAA installed a limited version of STARS in El Paso, TX on April 30th.  However, technicians at the site have had several complaints and reported numerous failures, such as not detecting aircraft.  According to the DOT IG, El Paso controllers are still using ARTS as a backup system because they are not comfortable with STARS.  This past week, the FAA forced the Syracuse airport to use STARS despite the El Paso problems, and a reported 221 technical deficiencies in the operation of STARS.  For example, STARS’ computer processors take between 90 minutes and three hours to repair, when they should be repaired in under 30 minutes.  

Despite these problems, the FAA plans to have a full version of STARS functioning in Philadelphia by November of this year.  In order to meet this deadline, the FAA has decided to forego independent testing at a smaller airport and ignore the custom design requirements at Philadelphia.  Furthermore, in fiscal 2002, the FAA has increased its monthly spending on the project to $10 million, above the average monthly cost of the last three years.  At its current pace, the FAA will run out of money and need to spend more or delay the project further.

“The government has a system in place to make sure projects, such as STARS, are safe and cost-effective.  The FAA has taken it upon itself to bypass these procedures, ignoring increasing expenses and more importantly, risk to passengers,” concluded Schatz.  “More oversight by Congress is needed of STARS to determine its viability and prevent future waste and cost overruns.  This urgent matter needs to be addressed to improve the safety of our skies.”                                                                                                                                                                 

Citizens Against Government Waste is the nation's largest nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in government.

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