Problems plague new air traffic control computers

April 21, 2010 By JOAN LOWY , Associated Press Writer

(AP) -- New computers crucial to modernizing the U.S. air traffic control system have run into serious problems and may not be fully operational by the end of this year when the current system is supposed to be replaced, a government watchdog said Wednesday.

The $2.1 billion system has misidentified aircraft and had trouble processing radar information, Calvin Scovel, the Transportation Department's inspector general, told a House panel. Air traffic controllers at a Federal Aviation Administration radar center in Salt Lake City, where the new computers are being tested, also have had difficulty transferring responsibility for planes to other controllers, he said.

Scovel warned that if the problems continue they could delay the FAA's NextGen program to replace the current air traffic control system, which is based on World War II-era , with a new system that's based on GPS technology.

The troubled computer system, called En Route Automation Modernization, is designed to handle aircraft flying at higher altitudes between airports, rather than planes taking off or landing. While not specifically part of the NextGen program, it is a critical underpinning.

The FAA had planned to have ERAM operational in Salt Lake City by December 2009 and at the agency's 20 other radar centers that handle en route traffic by the end of this year. That's when the FAA's contract with IBM to maintain the present computer system expires. The present system relies on a unique computer language called Jovial that is understood by a dwindling number of technicians.

However, deployment of the system in Salt Lake City has been delayed six months, and it is unlikely that the FAA will be able to have ERAM fully working in the 20 other radar centers by the end of this year. The FAA is spending $14 million a month trying to resolve the problems and get the system working, Scovel told the House Transportation and Infrastructure aviation subcommittee.

"FAA officials are concerned about the ERAM transition at larger, more complex (radar centers) like Chicago and New York," he said. Those centers have unique demands that will require adaptations to the ERAM software, Scovel said.

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said the agency is working to resolve the problems at the Salt Lake City center.

"We want to make sure the system is operating smoothly before we expand ERAM to other sites," Brown said. "We do not expect the minor delays in ERAM to slow down the transition to NextGen."

Scovel also said problems with a new FAA telecommunications systems raise questions about whether it can be relied upon for NextGen.

A failure of the system in November delayed more than 800 flights nationwide, and it took the FAA and its contractor over five hours to restore service, he said. The FAA has established review teams to assess the overall system design, he said.

Another witness at the hearing complained that a federal environmental law could delay the start of a key portion of NextGen even though the new system is projected to significantly save fuel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by allowing planes to fly faster, more direct routes.

Changing flight path designs will require environmental impact statements that could take years to complete and add millions of dollars to the cost of NextGen, said Lorraine Bolsinger, president and CEO of General Electric Aviation Systems, a key contractor.
---

On the Net:

DOT Inspector General http://www.oig.dot.gov

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee http://transportation.house.gov

http://www.faa.gov

Explore further: FAA FUEL TANK SAFETY SYSTEM TESTED AT NASA

0 shares

Related Stories

FAA FUEL TANK SAFETY SYSTEM TESTED AT NASA

July 7, 2004

An aircraft normally used to transport the Space Shuttle has been pressed into service to test technology to make airliners safer. Researchers from the NASA Glenn Research Center (GRC), Cleveland, arranged for a fuel inerting ...

Audit: Air traffic systems vulnerable to attack

May 6, 2009

(AP) -- The nation's air traffic control systems are vulnerable to cyber attacks, and support systems have been breached in recent months allowing hackers access to personnel records and network servers, according to a new ...

Hackers breach US air traffic control computers

May 8, 2009

Hackers broke into US air traffic control computers on several occasions over the past few years and increased reliance on Web applications and commercial software has made networks more vulnerable, according to a government ...

Glitch snarls air traffic in latest woes for FAA

November 19, 2009

(AP) -- For the second time in a little more than a year, a glitch at one of the two centers that handle flight plans for the nation's air travel system set off delays and cancellations for passengers around the country.

Recommended for you

Search engines will know what you want ... sooner

February 8, 2016

If you enter "Oklahoma" in a search engine, you might get a travelogue, news about the oil industry, Oklahoma State football scores or an article on Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals. What appears at the top of the list might ...

Researchers find vulnerability in two-factor authentication

February 3, 2016

Two-factor authentication is a computer security measure used by major online service providers to protect the identify of users in the event of a password loss. The process is familiar: When a password is forgotten, the ...

Battery technology could charge up water desalination

February 4, 2016

The technology that charges batteries for electronic devices could provide fresh water from salty seas, says a new study by University of Illinois engineers. Electricity running through a salt water-filled battery draws the ...

EU and US reach new data-sharing agreement

February 2, 2016

The European Union and the United States struck a deal Tuesday over data-sharing that will allow the likes of Facebook and Apple to continue sending people's information across the Atlantic—but a legal challenge to the ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.