Will FAA be ready?

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There is an interesting interview at www.gcn.com with Mr. Ray Long who is in charge of fixing all Y2K related problems in the National Airspace System, scroll down to the Features Section GCN interview: Ray Long '200 or Bust'. Mr. Long says that 131of the 222 mission-critical FAA systems are certified as Y2K compliant and that all FAA systems will be Y2K-compliant by June 30, 1999. He even went on to say that "precautionary measures will be moot". Is this guy overconfident?

-- Mark Mastrorilli (mamsam@injersey.com), July 22, 1998


The following is a cut and paste from Gary North's website, related to the new-found vitality in the FAA.

>>>>>cut, paste>>>>>

This is from the WASHINGTON POST (July 22).

* * * * * * * * * *

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J.Federal Aviation Administration technicians have concluded that a critical mainframe computer system used in the nation's largest air traffic control centers will function properly in the year 2000, despite warnings from the system's manufacturer that the agency should replace the equipment. . . .

"The examination has revealed that the [system] will transition the millennium in a routine manner," FAA Administrator Jane F. Garvey said in an interview yesterday.

The mainframe computers at issue, made by International Business Machines Corp., are used at the FAA's 20 air route traffic control centers to track high-altitude aircraft between airports. The computers, IBM's Model 3083 mainframes, receive data from radar systems and integrate that information into a picture for air traffic controllers.

Last October, IBM sent a letter to the FAA warning that "the appropriate skills and tools do not exist to conduct a complete Year 2000 test assessment" of the 3083 computers, once the mainstay of large corporate data centers. The machines have been mothballed by most users, a step IBM urged the FAA to take. . . .

To conduct the testing, the FAA hired two retired IBM programmers and assigned a handful of other agency employees to the project, which involved checking more than 40 million lines of "microcode" -- software that controls the mainframe's most basic functions. . . .

The technicians, however, found that the microcode doesn't consider the last two digits of the year when processing dates. Instead, it stores the year as a two-digit number between one and 32, assuming that 1975 was year one. As a result, they determined, the system would fail in 2007, but not in 2000.

"Nothing we have found will cause an operational aberration over the new year. It will continue to function as it's supposed to," said one FAA technician working on the project. FAA officials recently allowed a reporter to tour the facility here and talk to employees on the condition that they not be named. . . .

Agency officials acknowledge their determination will be met with skepticism on Capitol Hill and in the aviation industry. To bolster their case, the technicians said they have compiled reams of computer printouts that back up their conclusions.

The findings highlight one of the uncertainties of year 2000 repair work. While some projects can be more costly and time consuming than originally expected, others can be unexpectedly simple.

"It's a welcome surprise," Garvey said. "And we don't get many of them in government."


Obviously it must have been nothing but a ploy by IBM to sell more machines.

Glad I can go back to sleep, now. The airplanes won't fall out of the sky after all.

Anyone have a rational explanation for this? Is Big Blue so technically inept that they don't know what's in their own machines? Are they so greedy that they'd lie to Lockheed-Martin and the FAA?

At least the FAA acknowledges that they'll be met with scepticism in Congress.

-- Rocky Knolls (rknolls@hotmail.com), July 22, 1998.

Cha Ching, Cha Ching.

-- Barb-Douglas (bardou@yahoo.com), July 22, 1998.

Last week the National Air Traffic Controllers Association published a report highly critical of progress by FAA in its Y2k remediation efforts. In regard to the above mentioned computers, it included the following statement: >>It is important to recognize that even if the HOST can be made Year-2000 compliant, the processor, the heart of the HOST computer system, has a September 30, 1998, end-of-service life. The processor uses Thermal Conduction Modules that contain processing chips. Module failures can have consequences because they cool the processing chips. There is a shortage of spare parts for five types of these modules and they are failing at an increasing rate. For these 5 modules, there were 4 failures in 1995 and 12 failures in 1997. In addition to age, one factor which may be contributing to the increasing failure rate is that refurbishing after 7 years, as recommended by IBM, was not done. Despite a worldwide search to acquire additional units, there are only six spares left in the inventory for a key module. When the spare modules are no longer available, FAA will have to obtain parts by cannibalizing HOST systems at its two support facilities. <<>>

So it appears there is more to the story that the FAA is not telling us here. The full NATCA report can be found by looking in www.garynorth.com, in the Transportation and Shipping section, dated July 17. <<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

-- Dan Hunt (dhunt@hostscorp.com), July 23, 1998.

My concern is with what the FAA told the "retired IBM programmers" who evaluated the 3083 microcode. I have asked a question on this forum re: The FAA, IBM 3083s and microcode, in which I ask why they (the retired IBMers) didn't mention the date eval logic present in the ancillary functions of the operating system. Please read this and mention it to anyone who could intelligently poke holes in my logic. I hope my theory is incorrect.

-- Dave Tulka (tulka@co.palm-beach.fl.us), July 28, 1998.

The following is an email sent from a gentleman who was apparently quite involved with the FAA remediation effort (his email is included). This email is a response to a skeptic. The part that gets me is that it only took "twenty lines of code" to repair the entire system....

"Yes, you are a skeptic and unnecessarily so.

The FAA started developing this system over thithy years ago. It went into production in the Los Angeles Airtraffic Control Center in 1972. The National Airspace System(NAS) was developed as a result of several air collisions that occurred in the 1950's. They understand more about the business of air traffic control and air safety than any organization that I am aware of. Believe me, Flight Plans, Departure flights, Tracking and Handoffs to ARTS(departure and landing) are all part of this multiprocessing, continuously operational(24x7) fully recoverable software / fail hardware system. This is a hugh messaging system written with its own priority operating(pre OS/360) and database management system(" DBMS" word not invented yet). This is a time dependent system(not Date Sensitive). Day is only important when it read the daily flight plan tape which is supplied by the airlines.

Believe this, on March 23,1998, Stan Graham,TechBeamers, Bob Nagel and myself met for two hours with Ray Long, the FAA year 2000 manager and his staff. We discussed several alternatives with Ray. Ray's top priority was to analyze the micro code in the 3083's because it was the best alternative for the FAA, and it worked. At the time, we did not feel it would be appropriate to share that information with the group. By the way, it only took twenty lines of code to make the Enroute Air Traffic System year 2000 compliant.

Ray and his staff deserves credit for saving a lot of time and money. They are perfectionist and the airways are much safer because of their technical tenacity.

Nate Murphy Nate Murphy & Associates 105174.1470@compuserve.com The Assembler People 609-234-2353

-- Chana Campos (chana@campos.org), July 28, 1998.

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