Hundreds of flights across United States fouled up as FAA’s flight-plan system crashes once again

Sunday, November 22, 2009, 6:40 by Jose Philip

For the second time in little over a year, a malfunction at one of the two centres handling flight-plans for the air travel system in the United States caused delays and cancellations for passengers across the nation.

The glitch in the computer system of the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on November 19, 2009, was traced to something as simple as a single fouled-up circuit board.

The latest incident triggered demands that the FAA be given more manpower and money, even as the agency has been struggling in vain for years now to overhaul the nation’s air traffic system.

The Federal Aviation Administration said the problem was with the software configuration in one of the routers within the FAA’s telecommunications infrastructure system in Salt Lake City, in Utah.

The FAA’s centre in Salt Lake City is a part of a multibillion-dollar, nationwide communications network, which the agency took years to install.

In 2008, a watchdog of the US government had warned that the FAA’s communications network was “over-budget” and beset with by outages.

It may be recalled that, on a single day in 2007, the failure of parts of the FAA’s communications network triggered as many as 566 flight delays.

The US media quoted aviation experts as wondering whether any system which relies on the interconnectedness of computers can avoid such glitches that cause havoc unless there are adequate backup systems to handle the thousands of flight-plans filed daily in the United States.

According to reports, hundreds of flights were either cancelled or delayed from Atlanta to Houston to Phoenix after the problem at the FAA’s telecommunications infrastructure started around 5 a.m. on November 19, 2009. Though the fault was fixed about 4 hours later, scattered delays occurred throughout the day.

However, aircraft in flight were never in danger, a spokesman of the FAA said.

Lawmakers have been seized of the huge problem that the Federal Aviation Administration is facing.

Senator Charles Schumer (Democrat-New York) alleged that the nation’s aviation system is “a shambles” and urged that the FAA be given more resources in order prevent similar problems from happening in the future.

Senator Byron Dorgan (Democrat-North Dakota), chairman of the Senate’s aviation committee, said he plans to “grill” Randy Babbitt, Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, about the issue, at a hearing to be held on December 10, 2009.

Representative Jerry Costello (Democrat-Illinois), chairman of the House aviation committee, said he has asked the Inspector-General of Transportation to investigate into the incident and report to Congress within 60 days.

Meanwhile, the airlines, already hit hard by the global economic recession, are calculating their losses caused by the delays and cancellations on account of the malfunctioning of the FAA’s computer system.

In a statement, the US Federal Aviation Administration said it is investigating the cause of the failure in its communications network and also why a backup did not resolve the problem immediately

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