National Air Traffic Services (Nats) is already looking at replacing the systems at its new control centre at Swanwick in Hampshire, even though the system doesn't become operational until next week.
Now running six years late and £180m over budget, the system will control 200,000 square miles of airspace over England and Wales, looking after two million flights a year. It will finally go live on 27 January.
But long-term planners are already looking at replacing the systems. Nats told vnunet.com that it plans to do things very differently next time in a bid to avoid delays.
"We are delighted that the site is operational. The irony is that, while it's going operational, long-term planners are already looking at the next-generation system," said a spokesman.
Explaining that, because of the long lead times on developing systems, it has to start thinking now, the spokesman said: "We are considering the features we want provided for future systems. We aren't at the procurement stage.
"Nats has tended to issue detailed specifications and then ask companies to build them but, in the future, we are looking much more at commercial off-the-shelf products.
"We will be working with other air traffic control providers which may have procurement needs. We need to be proactive with other providers and talk to the industry about what we need."
The Swanwick centre is designed for major refits without disruption. "We don't expect to be using the same systems in 20 years' time. People are already looking at the next system," he explained.
Swanwick was originally meant to be operational by 1997, but problems with the development of software by Lockheed Martin caused delays, according to Nats.
Nats has now said that the original timetable was optimistic. "This is how long these projects take and people underestimated it in the first instance and we accept that," it said.
The shift to off-the-shelf systems was not only based on the problems with Swanwick. "It's not just coming out of the Swanwick experience, it also comes out of the Nats business review," it concluded.
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