After describing its GPS LAAS precision approach system contract as “imminent” for more than six months, the FAA in early May announced its award to Honeywell.
But the contract is significantly different from that which the bidders, Raytheon and Honeywell, originally expected. What was to have been a single development and initial production program has become a three-phase activity. Phase one requires Honeywell to prove, over an 18 to 24 month period, that its design meets stringent FAA integrity criteria, under which LAAS must unfailingly warn pilots within two seconds when it cannot provide safe guidance. Phases two and three, covering system development and production, are FAA options, exercised only if the phase one requirement is met.
Industry sources cite two reasons for the phased approach, said to be an unusual procurement step for the agency. Top FAA officials reportedly fear that the long and costly effort to achieve WAAS integrity could be repeated with LAAS, where integrity is even more demanding. Under current budget constraints, over-expenditure on LAAS is deemed unacceptable.
Second, user interest has waned for an approach aid that requires new avionics, but offers only Category I performance, specifically the 200-foot decision height and half-mile visibility currently provided by ILS. Users now appear more attracted to the less costly WAAS localizer precision with vertical guidance offering 250 feet and three-quarters of a mile, and also to the promise of required navigation performance techniques. It is also believed that the first six LAAS installations–at Chicago, Houston, Juneau, Memphis, Phoenix and Seattle–will not be available before 2007, with the FAA’s future LAAS implementation plans across the continental U.S. still unclear.
And for Honeywell team member Pelorus Navigation Systems of Calgary, Alberta, the FAA’s announcement was too little, too late. With its future predicated on participation in the LAAS program, Pelorus in March could wait no longer, and was forced into bankruptcy.