Airports resist new tests

A Federal Aviation Administration proposal that would require Year 2000 tests of emergency support equipment and other ground controls early on Jan. 1 is unnecessary and might cause some airports to shut down temporarily, an official of the Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) said last week.

The FAA wants to require equipment tests after midnight on Dec. 31 to check for any Year 2000 problems that were missed during tests that would have been conducted before the date change.

Under a proposal posted in the July 8 Federal Register, airport operators would have to conduct readiness tests on computers and embedded microprocessors that run airfield lighting systems, emergency communications systems, emergency equipment and systems that control vehicle and passenger gates before the first scheduled flight of the new year.

All of those systems are to be tested for Year 2000 problems before Dec. 31, but the FAA said the additional tests are necessary to ensure that the airports identify and address any unforeseen problems with date-sensitive airfield equipment and systems.

But Richard Marchi, senior vice president of technical and environmental affairs at ACI-NA, said the proposal has not been well received by airport operators.

"I think the proposed requirement is unnecessary, and it's unworkable," Marchi said. Numerous systems would have to be examined simultaneously in the middle of the night, which is "absurd on its face," he said.

ACI-NA members include 150 airport authorities across the United States, representing 97 percent of all airport traffic. Marchi said some of those airports have indicated that they would have to shut down operations for the first few hours of the new year to allow enough time to conduct the tests.

ACI-NA has been working closely with the FAA on Year 2000 issues and did not expect the agency to set such broad requirements, according to Marchi. Rather, ACI-NA expected the FAA to issue letters to specific airports that have systems with known Year 2000 problems and require them to fix or replace the equipment or face revocation of their safety certification.

The FAA declined to answer any Year 2000-related questions.

Marchi said the proposed rule was particularly disappointing in light of all the contingency plans in place and the testing that has been done or will be done before Jan. 1.

Airports already are required to inspect some of the systems in question on a daily basis, but the FAA says those tests typically are conducted during the day and therefore might not be conducted Jan. 1 before the first flight. If special testing is not required, a problem might only be detected when the equipment was needed for an actual emergency, according to the proposal.

"We look at this as a quality-assurance assessment," said Robert E. David, manager of the FAA's Airport Safety and Operations Division. The tests would be done to assure the public that the systems are functioning after the date rollover, David said. He said it does not explain how the reporting requirement would be handled or whether it fits with the planned Year 2000 Information Coordination Center.

The proposal also would require airport operators to report their test results to the FAA so that the information could be used to warn other airports of potential problems, David said.

John Koskinen, chairman of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion, was unaware of the FAA's proposal but said the FAA would conduct tests on Jan. 1 just like every federal organization to make certain that there are no disruptions.

--Orlando De Bruce contributed to this article.

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