Iowa’s largest airport is one of the first 22 in the country to start using the F-A-A’s new digital computer air traffic control system. The new system known as “STARS” at the Des Moines International Airport gives air traffic controllers like the ability to see a multitude of radar information on one color screen. The old system, first installed in 1968, used a monochrome screen and required a lot of switching and calling to bring up information that the new system has at hand with the touch of a button. Karan Bhatia of U.S. Department of Transportation was on hand for a demonstration of the new system for reporters. Bhatia says it’s making air traffic safer and more efficient, and he says that has a direct bottom-line benefit for passengers, shippers and cargo companies. He says Des Moines is one of the first airports to get STARS in part because of the age of its old system, and because the airport deals with all types of traffic, from commercial to military. He says STARS is being phased in across the country and it’ll be in all the major airports by 2011. Des Moines assistant air traffic manager Ed Carroll says their old system required several calls and lots of switching to call up a backup radar source if there was a problem. Carroll says the new system even allows Des Moines to be a backup for other airports in the state if needed if their systems went down for any reason. Carroll says one of the biggest improvements allows controllers to track weather information right along with the airplanes, and pick the best travel route. He says they can leave it up to the pilot, or vector the pilot to where the pilot needs to be to avoid the bad weather. He says that’s a big plus, especially in the midwest where there are a lot of thunderstorms that cause delays. Carroll says under the old system they had to check a weather radar and guess the best route to take a plane around a storm. He says the guesswork is now gone, they can see where the storm is, how fast it’s moving and the strength of the storm. Carroll says the new system can automatically show them on the radar screen an area of restricted airspace, such as when the president visits. He says they had to manually draw the restricted area on the old scopes. He says when they have a restricted area, like a nuclear power plant, it can show them the area that’s restricted. He says they can also track an aircraft that isn’t talking to them and see where they land and call police. Carroll says the new system is like going from a propeller driven plane to a jet when it comes to the speed and capability they’re gaining.
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