A $1-billion contract to build advanced radar screens for the U.S. air traffic control system is likely to go to a Japanese television manufacturer because no American company is ready to bid on the project, a House panel was told Wednesday.
Zenith Electronics Corp. Chairman Jerry K. Pearlman said only two companies--both Japanese--bid on the contract to provide high-resolution picture tubes for 31-inch terminals in the Federal Aviation Administration air traffic control centers.
Pearlman said the terminals are to be installed in 1992 and 1993 but that American electronics companies were unable to bid because they don’t yet possess the technology.
“There is not presently an American solution available,” Pearlman said.
He called the contract “the largest high-resolution display purchase in the world” and said it was part of the $3-billion upgrade the FAA plans for its air controller equipment.
Pearlman’s testimony drew swift responses from members of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, which held the hearing to consider ways the government can spur U.S. entry into what proponents of advanced television say will be a $140-billion business in 20 years.
Rep. Robert A. Roe (D-N.J.), the committee chairman, said the panel would look into the case and said Pearlman’s testimony may provide the issue he needs to attract public attention to the dilemma facing the U.S. electronics industry as Japanese and European competitors race to gain the upper hand in the TV technology of the 21st Century.
He urged witnesses before the hearing to expand their discussion of advanced television technology to its many possible uses, such as in medicine, education and the military, “so I can tell the Congress of the United States that this is not just a bigger, brighter picture on a television tube.”
Pearlman said the American company Zenith, which has combined with IBM to build a high-definition television system, might be able to bid on the FAA contract if the installation schedule were delayed about a year and if Zenith could find $21 million in research funds.
He said the $30 million in seed money the Pentagon is offering private enterprise for the system’s development “will only scratch the surface.”
He said $100 million a year for three to four years, “matched by an equal or greater amount by industry, is required. I assure you that the industry is ready, willing and able to make these investments.”