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1998-02-05 09:51:45


The FAA's Other Problem: Noncompliant Hardware



It's not just that the FAA has 23 million lines of code. It's that its computers are hard-wired wrong. So, they have to replace the computers. But they are also trying to rewrite code for their existing computers.

No question about it: the FAA is a government agency.

Note that the FAA is in the assessment stage. According to the California White Paper, assessment is 5% of a y2k project; awareness is 1%; inventory is 1%. The FAA therefore has over 95% of its project ahead of it.

This is from WIRED NEWS (Jan. 30).

* * * * * *

"We're on one hand working to get those computers Year 2000 compliant, but at the same time we're working on replacing those computers," said Paul Takemoto, a spokesman for the FAA.

Takemoto said that the FAA is currently in the assessment phase of the project, where it will be determined exactly which systems and which lines of code need to be fixed.

"The host computer is the computer that's used at the 20 Air Route Traffic Control Centers," said Takemoto. While take-offs and landings are handled by an airport's air traffic control tower and another airport control handling the airspace within roughly a 50-mile radius of the airport, these Air Route Traffic Control Centers -- or ARTCCs -- handle all flights everywhere else.

There are 20 such ARTCCs throughout the country, each with a host computer and a backup system. All 40 of these machines -- mid-'80s vintage IBM 3083 mainframes -- are affected. The decision on whether or not to replace some of these computers, Takemoto said, will be made in 90 to 120 days.

But here's the catch -- it is not entirely a software problem. While the FAA's 23 million lines of code are being made Y2K compliant, the problem is also evident in the microcode that is built into some of its equipment's hardware.

Microcode -- or firmware, as it is sometimes called -- are the modifiable programming instructions written in a processor's machine language that are part of the device itself. This makes the situation difficult. . . .

Takemoto said that the FAA is going to attempt to fix the machines itself.

"They're talking about trying to fix it, just in case they can't get anything else running between now and then," said Peter G. Neumann, principal scientist at the SRI International Computer Science Laboratory, and moderator of the well-known RISKS Forum newsgroup. "They're in serious trouble," he said.


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