The Federal Aviation Administration may finally be on its way to a modern air-traffic control system with the award to ITT of a $1.8 billion contract, The Washington Post reported Friday.
The proposal, which the FAA picked over competing bids from Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, is for a system that runs on satellites, not radar, to guide aircraft. FAA officials say this is the way to go, because radar is inadequate to provide the accuracy and timeliness a rapidly expanding air network needs.
"This will allow us to run more aircraft safely and with more efficiency," said Robert A. Sturgell, the FAA's deputy administrator, during a press conference announcing the award.
$1.8 billion is just the tip of the iceberg. The system will cost at least $15 billion over the next 20 years. This award is for the first phase of the system, the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), which includes a network of ground stations needed to relay air traffic information to controllers and pilots. Airplanes will receive signals from satellites that will give them their precise location in the sky and on airport tarmacs. Planes will then relay that information to ground stations, which will give it to controllers. Pilots will be able to view the locations of other planes on screens in their cockpits.
The news is further proof of the falling fortunes of Lockheed. The FAA fined Lockheed $3 million for the way it handled the takeover of FAA flight service stations. And its handling of the Coast Guard's $24 billion Deepwater program was heavily criticized in Congress.
"Lockheed Martin was the dominant player, and it is very significant for them to lose," said Philip Finnegan, an analyst with the Teal Group. "I am not sure of the specifics of what caused the decision to go down as it did. But Lockheed has had some performance problems. It seems that if aerospace companies win a lot of contracts very fast, they run into performance problems. Lockheed has had those. Deepwater was a black eye."