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1998-04-06 23:46:35


FAA's Problems Described by Air Traffic Controller



A representative of the Air Traffic Controllers testified to the Senate Banking Committee regarding the problem areas facing the Federal Aviation Administration.

I ask three questions: (1) Will the insurance industry insure flights in 2000? (2) Will anyone in his right mind fly on any plane, anywhere in the United States, in 2000? (3) Why do airline stocks not crash and burn?

* * * * * *

Good Morning, My name is Richard Swauger. I am the National Technology Coordinator for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. And a former controller at Washington National Airport. NATCA represents over 14,000 controllers employed by the FAA. Thank you for inviting NATCA to testify today on the Y2K computer problem that is facing the FAA. . . .

The FAA's host computer system - the centerpiece information processing system in FAA's en route centers runs on IBM mainframe computers. Key components of the host include its operating system, application software, and microcode low-level machine instructions used to service the main computer. IBM has reported that it has no confidence in the ability of its microcode to survive the millennium date change because it no longer has the skills or tools to properly asses this code. IBM has therefore recommended that FAA purchase new hardware. As the PASS representative stated, the host is not used anywhere else, parts are no longer commercially available, and neither the manufacture nor third-party vendors will service it. . . .

If the program experiences delays or interruptions in funding, system procurement, delivery, training, or installation, the FAA will be at risk of not being able to complete the replacement on time. The entire domestic air traffic control system will be in jeopardy as soon as the clock tick from 1999 to 2000.

Should the host fail, the following would be lost:

All automated flight data processing - automated inter-facility hand-off shift to manual hand-offs.

Conflict alert-alerts controllers when two or more aircraft might get to close to one another.

Minimum Safe Altitude Warning - warns controllers when an aircraft is too close to terrain.

Mode C Intruder - warns controllers that an aircraft not typically under ATC control might be getting too close to another aircraft.

Route lines - projects an aircraft's filed route of flight.

Halos - the five mile rings that center controllers use to judge distance between aircraft at the same altitude.

Destination symbols - displayed in the aircraft data block.

Quick Looks - allows a radar controller to quickly view aircraft in an adjacent controller's airspace.

Emergency Airports - allows rapid display of emergency airports on the radar screen.

Central flow - impacts the ability of the command center to track aircraft nationally and also the ability of air carriers who access to the aircraft situation display (ASD).

Controllers would have to use the limited back-up system to provide air traffic control services which would severely limit capacity and cost airlines and travelers millions of dollars. . . .

Most important, a contingency plan must be established to train controllers to maintain air safety without the services the host provides for them.

The agency has not developed its contingency strategies to GAO's satisfaction, and costs are expected to rise significantly as the FAA's year 2000 work progresses.


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