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1998-04-10 22:04:27


Airlines Are Confident; Evidence Is Lacking



The airline industry, as with every other industry, is nowhere near compliant. The main threat to the airlines, says one specialist, is bad data. Noncompliant data from one system may corrupt a corrected system. This is hypothetical, of course. It assumes that someone will be operating a compliant system. But the airlines, like all other industries, never mention this.

Air Canada, with 25 million lines of code, is 30% finished with its project, i.e., 70% not finished.

Canadian Airlines is relying on its partner American Airlines to get things fixed.

Boeing began its y2k repair project in 1993. It is not yet finished with assessment. It has not begun actual code repair. The California White Paper says that awareness is 1%; inventory is 1%, and assessment is 5%.

An official with KLM, the Dutch state airline that has stated that it does not intend to fly its planes on December 31, 2000, had this to say: "I am absolutely sure [the world's air transportation system] will be confronted with systems going down. That doesn't mean safety is at stake." Read it again. Thay's what he said.

This is from Canada's GLOBE AND MAIL (March 23).

* * * * * * *

"What we do have to worry about are the interfaces [between computer systems]," said Sid Koslow, vice-president of engineering for NavCanada , the Transport Canada spinoff that operates the nation's air navigation systems.

"If there was bad data generated in one system, it could transfer that data to a perfectly good system," he said. And that would make the latter system less than perfectly good.

Mr. Koslow said he believes that while the millennium bug is a serious problem, it is one that will be corrected before it can affect air travel.

Air Canada and Canadian Airlines Corp. say they'll be flying. But they won't be flying full schedules if they're not confident that every air traffic system and every airport they must deal with can safely handle their flights. . . .

Making air travel safe from computer malfunction is an enormous task. The airplanes have to be examined from nose to tail for any piece of software or embedded microchip that might be affected by a date glitch. Dozens of systems, from navigation computers to fuel sensors, must check out.

The airlines have dozens of operation systems, all of which must be working properly. These systems ensure that aircraft have been properly maintained, that they have enough fuel to get to their destination, that the weight and balance is right for take-off and landing, and that there is air-to-ground communications.

Beyond that, the air traffic systems that guide the planes past each other, and into and out of congested airports, must also perform without a hitch, and all the systems that keep airports running must be fully operational. . . .

Canadian Airlines is relying almost entirely on its U.S. partner, American Airlines Inc. , to make sure all its computer systems are Year 2000 compliant.

Montreal-based Air Canada started looking at the issue in May of 1996, poring over 25 million lines of computer code in scores of different systems. It found that 77 per cent of its systems needed to be fixed or replaced.

Many of Air Canada's business systems simply will be replaced, said Lise Fournel, vice-president of information technology at the airline.

The others, 151 applications used in technical operations, such as aircraft maintenance, component purchasing, flight planning, air-to-ground systems, weight and balance systems, crew scheduling and catering, all have to be fixed.

"We are 30 per cent complete with our conversion," Ms. Fournel said. "We plan on completing all our conversions by the end of 1998 so that we can do a lot of additional testing throughout 1999."

It will get done, she said, but after that the airline can only vouch for its own systems.

"We are highly dependent on external parties," Ms. Fournel said. "We will assess the risk, in the sense that in every airport we fly into we will be asking those authorities if they are ready. If everything external is ready, we will be flying."

Readiness all starts with the airplane.

Boeing Co. , which has sold more than 11,000 aircraft, has been working on the Year 2000 problem since 1993 and has almost completed its analysis of the software systems in all its commercial aircraft.

Most of the work involves non-critical systems, but two navigation systems will keep the airplane on the ground if they aren't fixed, said Mary Jean Olsen, Boeing's engineering communication manager.

The Seattle-based aircraft manufacturer has been talking to all of its suppliers for years, Ms. Olsen said, and by June it will be ready to send out instructions to all of its customers on exactly what needs to be fixed on each type of aircraft. . . .

Besides the airlines and the aircraft manufacturers, every country in the world has to ensure that its air navigation systems will function on Jan. 1, 2000.

"I am absolutely sure [the world's air transportation system] will be confronted with systems going down," said Hugo Baas, a spokesman for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines , the state-owned airline of the Netherlands. "That doesn't mean safety is at stake." . . .

"Our house will be in order," NavCanada's Mr. Koslow said. "It will be safe to fly." . . .


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