In 2016, STARS went operational at the Big 11 TRACONs, which control 80 percent of all traffic arriving and departing from U.S. airports.
By 2019, STARS will be operational at more than 150 civil and more than 80 military TRACONs.
STARS can track more aircraft than the system it replaces and helps controllers work more efficiently.
STARS and ERAM enable NextGen capabilities such as ADS-B and Data Comm.
The FAA is laying the foundation for NextGen air traffic control with two cutting-edge automation systems. While neither system is a NextGen technology in and of itself, both enable critical NextGen capabilities in terminal and en route airspace.
The Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS) is now in use at 70 terminal radar approach control (TRACON) facilities, including the "Big 11" TRACONs that control 80 percent of all traffic arriving and departing from U.S. airports. STARS, which replaces multiple outdated automation systems with a single state-of-the-art standardized platform, is being deployed as part of the Terminal Automation Modernization and Replacement program (TAMR).
En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) is already in use at all 20 en route centers in the contiguous United States.
The systems that STARS and ERAM are replacing — some up to 40 years old — did not have the capability to work with NextGen Decision Support Systems and were becoming difficult to maintain due to many discontinued parts.
In 2016, the FAA's Program Management Organization achieved a major TAMR automation milestone as STARS went operational at the Big 11 TRACONs. They are:
- Dallas/Fort Worth
- Minneapolis-St. Paul
- New York
- Northern California
- Potomac (Washington, D.C., area)
- St. Louis
- Southern California
In 2017, the FAA continues to deploy STARS in large, medium, and small TRACONs. By 2019, STARS will be operational at all 255 civil and military TRACONs in the National Airspace System (NAS), thanks in part to a partnership with the Department of Defense.
Adjustable backlighting makes the STARS keyboard more visible and easier for controllers to use when they enter data. (Photo courtesy of Jon Ross)
STARS has new features that will make the system easier for controllers to use than the legacy systems it is replacing. The system provides:
- Weather advisories
- Assistance with terrain avoidance and conflict alerts
- Tracking of aircraft with Automatic Dependent–Broadcast (ADS-B)
- Improved traffic picture with flat-panel LED displays
- Adjustable keyboard backlighting that improves visibility and makes data entry more efficient
- A recall capability so that complex controller workstation settings preferred by an individual controller are now saved for retrieval at the touch of a button
- A highlight capability so a controller can assign a color to an aircraft to make it easier to follow
- A minimum separation capability that enables a controller to select two aircraft and ensure the required separation will be maintained
- A data block feature that automatically lists the number of aircraft in a formation — a function that previously had to be performed manually
- An infrastructure that is easier for technicians to maintain because the same system is being installed at all TRACONs
ERAM enables controllers to track, direct, and separate aircraft when they are at cruising altitudes. It also has an improved conflict detection capability and helps reduce aircraft separation from 5 nautical miles to 3 nm under certain conditions.
Each en route center can now track 800 more aircraft with ERAM than was possible with the HOST system it has replaced, allowing each center to handle more traffic. In addition, ERAM's trajectory modeling is more accurate.
ERAM offers other significant improvements over HOST, including:
- A more user-friendly interface with customizable displays
- A feature that lets controllers save frequently used ERAM keyboard entries to avoid potential errors caused by repeatedly entering the same keystrokes
- Better ways to display temporary flight restriction (TFR) areas so controllers can use all airspace around TFR areas more effectively
- A messaging capability so a supervisor can send revised routing suggestions to multiple controllers with a single keystroke rather than passing new routings to each controller with handwritten notes
- Two functionally identical channels with dual redundancy reduce the likelihood of an ERAM outage and enable the system to continue operating during preventive maintenance
- A realistic, high-fidelity training system that can model complex approaches, maneuvers, and pilot scenarios that were unavailable using the previous generation automation platform's training capability
STARS and ERAM enable NextGen capabilities in the NAS and work together to provide greater efficiency and benefits.
STARS improves the air traffic picture for controllers with a flat-panel LED display that shows aircraft tracked by ADS-B and radar.
Two NextGen technologies that work with STARS are ADS-B and the Time Based Flow Management (TBFM) sequencing and spacing tool. TBFM enables controllers to speed up or slow down an aircraft hundreds of miles away from its destination airport to facilitate a smooth sequence of arrival traffic.
The FAA is moving from a NAS that relies on surveillance of current aircraft position to a more strategic time-based management system. The new system will be based on knowledge of where an aircraft will be at designated times along its projected flight path. It will orchestrate the flow of aircraft and make the most effective use of Performance Based Navigation procedures. STARS will play a crucial role in enabling the FAA to implement time-based management in terminal airspace.
ERAM is already enabling NextGen technologies such as the Traffic Flow Management System (TFMS) pre-departure reroute capability. TFMS is a suite of automation tools that serves as the FAA's primary system for mitigating demand and capacity imbalances in the NAS. As the FAA moves to time-based management, ERAM will play a major part in enabling this new operational tempo.
A pilot shows how Data Comm works in the cockpit of a Boeing 777 during a media event at Washington Dulles International Airport in 2016.
Text-based Data Communications (Data Comm) messages will help en route controllers reduce time-consuming and easily misunderstood voice communications when Data Comm is extended to en route airspace beginning in 2019. The Data Comm program is funding the development of software modifications to the ERAM system so Data Comm can be used with en route traffic at air traffic control centers. The FAA plans to develop additional code to enable other new NextGen functions on the ERAM platform, including Path Stretch for TBFM and Airborne Rerouting for TFMS.