Y2K bug still poses risk to air travel

Although the Federal Aviation Administration has made progress in making its systems Year 2000-compliant, the millennium bug still threatens other computers in the U.S. and international air traffic systems.

Non-compliant computer systems used at airports, airlines and by FAA's international partners threaten to adversely affect FAA's operations, said Joel Willemssen, director of civil agencies information systems at the General Accounting Office's Accounting and Information Management Division.

For example, the latest information shows that about 20 percent of the 113 U.S. airports reported that they had completed Year 2000 preparations, Willemssen said. About 33 percent of the 146 international airlines reported to the FAA that their systems were Year 2000-compliant, Willemssen yesterday told a joint hearing of the House Government, Management, Information and Technology Subcommittee and the House Technology Subcommittee.

Meanwhile, 53 countries that have not responded to a survey issued by the International Civil Aviation Organization that asked countries to detail the Year 2000 status of their aviation systems, said Kenneth Mead, inspector general at the Transportation Department. "Policy still needs to be established as to whether U.S. carriers or U.S. code that share flights will be allowed to fly to countries that either did not respond or cannot give sufficient assurance they are Year 2000-ready," Mead said in his testimony at the hearing.

Since yesterday's hearing, more recent data from the FAA shows that 35 countries have not responded to the ICAO survey.

"Until these remaining issues are resolved, the potential still exists for possible Y2K disruptions to delay or cancel flights around the country and throughout the world," said Rep. Constance Morella (R-Md.). "My concern is not with the safety of our nation's airline passengers but rather with the potential economic and personal disruptions that may be caused by flight delays and cancellations."

Rep. Stephen Horn (R-Calif.) asked the FAA to release this week the names of the non-responding countries in an effort to motivate them to make systems changes and because the public has a right to know. Jane Garvey, FAA administrator, agreed to send the information to Horn's committee.

Garvey added that the FAA plans by the end of this month to list on its World Wide Web site not only the status of foreign countries' aviation-related Year 2000 efforts but also the status of the efforts made by domestic airlines and airports. "Full disclosure will be our motto," she said.

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