FAA reports two-thirds of systems Y2K-compliant

The Federal Aviation Administration, criticized for its tardiness in fixing computers for the Year 2000 bug, said late last month it is one step closer to fixing its mission-critical systems to properly process dates occurring after 1999.

At a press briefing held at FAA headquarters, Jane Garvey, FAA administrator, and Raymond Long, director of the FAA's Year 2000 program, said the agency has renovated 67 percent of its mission-critical systems and is on track to renovate the remaining computers by Sept. 30.

The Office of Management and Budget, Congress and the General Accounting Office have cited the FAA as one of a handful of agencies that are the furthest behind in fixing their computer systems. But Garvey said, "We feel we are well on our way" to meeting the Year 2000 deadline. She added, however, that the work is far from over. "These systems are so interconnected and dependent on each other," she said. "How they work in total is the ultimate challenge."

Of the FAA's 433 mission-critical systems, 159 require renovation. To date, 106 of these have been renovated. Of the remaining systems, 224 did not require renovation, and 50 will be retired or replaced with Year 2000-compliant systems. The most complicated systems were tackled first, Garvey said.

The FAA figures include systems under development and scheduled for deployment within the next year and a half, Long said. "Any system to be deployed before 2000 will be counted as if it were an operational system for the sake of the Year 2000 issue," he said.

Recently, the FAA found that the mainframe-based host computer system would process flight and radar data normally in 2000, but would require a date fix to process the data in 2007. However, the agency said the aging machines, which are located at the 20 centers that track aircraft flying at high altitudes over the United States, will be replaced long before 2007. The first new IBM Corp. mainframe is expected to be installed in New York in February next year, with therollout finished in November.

Other air traffic control systems that have been renovated include the Automated Radar Terminal System, which drives controller displays at air traffic control towers and terminal radar approach control facilities; the Flight Service Automation System, which is a flight service and data processing system; and National Airspace Data Interchange Network II, which is a system that processes flight plans.

John Koskinen, the Clinton administration's Year 2000 czar, said last month that he is encouraged with the FAA's Year 2000 progress. "I now believe that the FAA is actually going to make it," he said in a speech delivered at the annual meeting of the National Association of Counties in Portland, Ore.

Koskinen said a major factor in the FAA's improved Year 2000 management was the appointment of Long, who reports directly to Garvey. The appointment has focused the highest levels of management on the issue, he said.

Meanwhile, the FAA must solve other pressing Year 2000 issues. For example, the FAA is working with international organizations such as the International Civil Aviation Organization which is undertaking a risk assessment of the Year 2000 problem internationally. Starting Aug. 10, the FAA will detail an employee to ICAO. "We really have to have a better sense of what's happening internationally" before knowing how serious the problem is, Garvey said. "Even domestically, we feel good about our progress but we have to keep pushing very hard."

The FAA expects to meet another milestone Aug. 30, when it completes its Year 2000 National Airspace System contingency plan. Garvey said the agency will work with air traffic controllers to make sure their concerns are addressed in the plan. Controllers have called the FAA's contingency plans for air traffic control "vague" and said they "provide no realistic levels of operational readiness," according to a posting on the group's World Wide Web site. "They represent an administrative gesture at best."

"We're trying to make sure we have contingency plans in place so if we lose radar and communications, [controllers] can safely control aircraft," Michael McNally, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, said in an interview last month. "We want contingency plans to incorporate all [possible scenarios] that could occur."

Vince Cordivano, vice president and director of Year 2000 programs at James Martin Government Consulting Inc., said the FAA's renovation achievement is significant, but the FAA still must test if the systems have been properly fixed.

"Achieving 67 percent is a feat worth mentioning, but don't lose sight of the fact that the FAA is still not at the top of the hill," Cordivano said. "Testing can be 50 to 60 percent of the Y2K cost in terms of time and dollars."

Cordivano added that tools to test the fixes are not as effective as renovation tools because the testing tools require significant human intervention.

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