FAA Completed STARS at Large TRACONs, but Challenges in Delivering NextGen Capabilities Remain
What We Looked At
FAA is currently modernizing and standardizing the automated systems that controllers rely on to manage air traffic near airports by installing the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS) at 11 large terminal radar approach control (TRACON) air traffic facilities. STARS is critical to achieving the expected benefits of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), including enhanced capacity and reduced delays. STARS program risks, if not mitigated, could impact the long-term viability of NextGen. For these reasons, the House Appropriations Committee directed our office to provide an update on FAA’s progress in implementing STARS at the 11 large TRACONs and determine how the effort will support NextGen capabilities.
What We Found
FAA has installed STARS at the 11 TRACONs and is capable of providing full and sustained operations. However, FAA has experienced challenges in transitioning from the legacy system to STARS. In addition, despite having a detailed management plan for new STARS requirements, FAA could not sufficiently document how new requirements were validated or prioritized. Our review also identified that FAA’s installation of STARS power systems do not comply with the Agency’s safety regulations and industry standards.
STARS supports several new NextGen capabilities at some of the 11 TRACONs, such as displaying Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) information for controllers. However, it does not yet fully support other capabilities that materially impact air traffic management, such as sequencing and spacing tools for controllers that facilitate the use of new performance-based navigation procedures. FAA is planning to establish a new phase of terminal automation to further address NextGen capabilities.
FAA concurred with three of our recommendations to improve implementation of STARS requirements and NextGen capabilities and partially concurred with one. Based on FAA’s response, we consider all the recommendations resolved and open pending completion of planned actions.