FAA Taps Harris To Build Nationwide Data Comm Network

 - September 24, 2012, 12:30 PM
The FAA showed representative data communications displays for both pilots, left, and controllers earlier this year at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Aviation Summit. (Photo: Bill Carey)

Harris has won a three-way contest to provide the FAA’s next generation ATC data communications network between pilots and controllers, beating competing bids by ITT Exelis and Lockheed Martin. The FAA on Thursday awarded the Melbourne, Fla.-based company a seven-year, $332 million contract under its Data Comm Integrated Services (DCIS) program, a key component of the Next Generation Air Transportation System. The contract includes 10 one-year options through September 2029 that could increase the duration and value of the award.

The FAA said it plans to deploy data communications in ATC towers by 2016 for routine communications and in air route traffic control centers that manage en route traffic beginning in 2019. Those dates have each slipped by one year from earlier projections.

Harris leads an industry team that includes American Airlines, Arinc, GE Aviation, Sunhillo and Thales. The team will provide integration and engineering services for the ground-to-ground and air-to-ground segments of a data network connecting ATC facilities and data comm-equipped aircraft. The network is supposed to use one or both of the existing commercial air/ground datalinks provided by Arinc and Sita that connect airline operations centers with their aircraft. Following the DCIS contract award, Arinc said it will “maximize its partnerships with 85 percent of the domestic airline market” to encourage early adoption of the necessary Future Air Navigation System (FANS) 1/A+ avionics set. As prime contractor, Harris also carries responsibility for administering an “avionics equipage initiative” with $80 million in seed funding to supply early equipping airlines.

Another Harris teammate—Thales—is already engaged in developing a prototype tower automation platform and controller display interface for data communications under the Data Comm Trial Automation Platform (DTAP) program. That system is operating at the FAA’s Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City, N.J., and plans call for its deployment at Memphis International Airport to support data comm operational trials by FedEx Express beginning in November. Based on the success of the Memphis demonstration, DTAP will be installed at Newark Liberty and Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson airports. According to DTAP informational literature, “the FAA and industry were interested in moving forward with trials ahead of the DCIS procurement” to maintain the momentum of the overall data comm program.

Harris already serves as the prime contractor of the FAA’s voice, data and video telecommunications infrastructure. In August, the FAA awarded the company a contract potentially worth $291 million to replace legacy ATC voice switches with an Internet Protocol-based network under the National Airspace Voice System program.