Lockheed Martin misses milestone in FAA's ATOP upgrade

Washington DC
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The US FAA insists a Lockheed Martin-led program to upgrade oceanic air traffic control systems in the USA remains on track despite missing a milestone and a delay in factory acceptance testing.

FAA associate administrator for research and acquisition Charlie Keegan says the $200 million Advanced Technologies Oceanic Procedures (ATOP) program has not yet met a milestone that was supposed to have been reached by the 2002 summer. He says factory acceptance tests of the technology also began slightly behind schedule this fall because of more reports of trouble than expected.

A Lockheed Martin spokesman acknowledges the company “had to do more work with the software than anticipated”. But he says software development has been completed and the manufacturer is still on schedule to meet the “first contractual milestone” next spring.

Lockheed is testing the new equipment, which modernizes the FAA’s handling of trans-oceanic traffic, at the air route traffic control center in Oakland, California. Keegan says the system should be operational at Oakland in April 2003 as scheduled.

He adds Lockheed has been giving some latitude through the end of this year with meeting the missed milestone. The FAA is also holding back a payment to Lockheed Martin until the system passes factor acceptance tests.

“We’re not paying until it shows up and works,” Keegan says. “Right now it’s not working right.”

The Lockheed spokesman is not aware of any payment delays, emphasizing the milestone missed was internal rather than contractual and that the contract has a fixed price. But he acknowledges there is contractual scheme tied with the factory acceptance testing.

The ATOPS project calls for Lockheed Martin and its partners to install commercial off-the-shelf equipment that is already used in the South Pacific and is being adopted to meet US FAA standards. Although the technology is off the shelf, the Lockheed spokesman says it represents a “radically new approach” for oceanic air traffic control handling in the USA, with reduced aircraft spacing and increased automation. After securing operational status in Oakland, the Lockheed team is contracted to install the same technology at similar centers in Anchorage, Alaska and New York.

Meanwhile, the Department of Transportation (DOT) inspector general has launched a second audit of the ATOPS program, which was only awarded 18 months ago. The Lockheed spokesman calls the audit “routine”.