FAA to build 2nd half of Bush network in the spring

The second phase of the Federal Aviation Administration’s $140 million satellite-based communications network is set to begin next spring in several villages in Bush Alaska.

Better known as ANICS, the Alaskan National Air Space Interfacility Communications System transmits voice and data from navigation aids like radar and weather observation equipment via satellites to air traffic control facilities and pilots.

It is the FAA’s first major satellite communications system in the United States and is touted as nearly 100 percent reliable, the agency says.

Between 1987 and 1992, a series of communications outages caused by a commercial satellite that shifted in orbit prompted the FAA to buy its own satellite network, according to Joette Storm, the FAA’s spokeswoman in Anchorage.

"The satellite wobbled out of orbit earlier than expected,’’ Storm said.

Before ANICS, the FAA leased satellite circuits from telecommunications carriers. With ANICS, the FAA owns and maintains its own satellite circuits, which saves the agency about $200,000 annually, Storm said.

In 1993, Melbourne, Fla.-based Harris Corp. was awarded a $140 million contract for the ANICS system. The contract was split into two phases.

In the first phase, completed in 1997, 53 dual-satellite earth stations were constructed throughout Alaska, mostly in larger communities and villages.

The second phase, set to begin next spring, calls for the construction of up to 18 single-satellite earth stations in smaller communities like Savoonga, St. George and Buckland, according to the FAA.

Work includes installing 28-foot spherical radar domes at each site to protect satellite dishes and electronic equipment from snow and severe temperatures.

Harris Corp. will provide the equipment for the sites, which includes specialized computer hardware and software, company officials said.

Construction and installation of the initial phase of the project was done by New Horizons Telecom Inc. of Palmer. A contractor for the second phase of the project has yet to be chosen, according to Harris Corp. officials.

Under ANICS, the Alaskan Air Route Traffic Control Center in Anchorage and Automated Flight Service Stations in Juneau, Fairbanks and Kenai will be linked via satellite with the new remote FAA facilities throughout the state.

The Anchorage hub and three flight service stations are connected to each other by leased microwave or fiber-optic links, or copper cable, depending on the distance, according to the Harris Corp.

Initially, more than 100 sites were expected be funded out of the ANICS contract, but the project proved to be more expensive than projected, Storm said.

The FAA has spent about $100 million on the project to date, Storm said.

Ray Thorpe, vice president of Harris Corp., said it costs from $650,000 to more than $1 million per site to install a satellite earth station, depending on location.

Work on the additional 18 sites should be completed by 2004, Thorpe said.

ANICS is a valuable tool for Alaska aviators, he said.

"It helps the pilot with weather conditions and the ability to fly safer,’’ Thorpe said.

11/18/2001 - 8:00pm