Problems plague new air traffic control computers

Apr 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: Non-emergency lines still need a back up plan in case of another meltdown

3 /5 (3 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Glitch snarls air traffic in latest woes for FAA

Nov 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 ...

Hackers breach US air traffic control computers

May 08, 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 ...

Audit: Air traffic systems vulnerable to attack

May 06, 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 ...

FAA FUEL TANK SAFETY SYSTEM TESTED AT NASA

Jul 07, 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 iner ...

Recommended for you

E-Voting: Risky technology or great improvement?

42 minutes ago

On this forthcoming weekend the Australian state election takes place, and in Victoria State they will be using a new e-voting system to improve secrecy, reliability and user-friendliness. But how secure are such systems? ...

Namibia prepares for Africa's first e-vote

Nov 26, 2014

Namibia will vote in Africa's first electronic ballot Friday, a general election that will usher in a new president and quotas to put more women in government.

US agency threatens to act against air bag maker

Nov 26, 2014

A dispute between U.S. safety regulators and air bag maker Takata Corp. escalated Wednesday when the government threatened fines and legal action unless the company admits that driver's air bag inflators ...

Japan orders air bag maker to conduct probe

Nov 21, 2014

Japan's transport ministry said Friday it has ordered air bag maker Takata to conduct an internal investigation after cases of its air bags exploding triggered safety concerns in the United States and other countries.

User comments : 0

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.