FAA installing last-minute Y2K patch

The Federal Aviation Administration started a rush project today to fix an undetected Year 2000 software glitch at the 21 en route air traffic control centers across the country.

According to the union that represents workers who install and maintain air traffic control equipment, the problem could jeopardize the safety of airline passengers if unresolved.

The FAA had declared all 628 of the computer systems that make up the nationwide air traffic control system fully Year 2000-compliant earlier this month, but the Professional Airways Systems Specialists union said the agency is rushing to install a fix today for a potential date-code bug in host computer systems at the 21 en route centers that control all domestic air traffic.

PASS regional vice president Tom Demske said, "Once again, the FAA took shortcuts and nearly put passenger safety in jeopardy.... After bragging about [Year 2000] compliance, the agency has to scramble at the last minute to meet its responsibilities."

Air traffic controllers use the host computers to track airplanes and flight plans. A safety feature of the system—which is in the midst of a $1 billion upgrade by Lockheed Martin Corp.—allows it to perform a brief start-over when encountering a problem. The recovery is designed to be invisible to the user.

But PASS said that without the Year 2000 patch, which is being installed less than a day before the turn of the century, the system would recognize Year 2000 data as earlier than 1999 data after restart.

PASS said this date anomoly would result in loss of flight plan data and tracking information, "causing air traffic controllers to lose data from their screens and endangering passengers lives."

The FAA had no immediate comment on the PASS statement.

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