U.S. to face tough 2000 choice on foreign flights

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03/15 15:15 U.S. to face tough 2000 choice on foreign flights

By Tim Dobbyn

WASHINGTON, March 15 (Reuters) - Tough decisions must be made soon on whether to bar U.S. airlines from flying to certain foreign destinations where year-2000 computer problems may exist, Congress was told Monday.

Department of Transportation (DOT) Inspector General Ken Mead gave a largely favorable report on domestic aviation readiness to a joint hearing of two House committees. But he warned of trouble abroad, without naming specific countries.

"We believe it is time to develop a policy as to whether U.S. carriers or U.S. code-share flights will be allowed to fly to countries that are not known to be Y2K compliant," Mead said.

Code-sharing is a marketing tool used by airline alliances; it allows an airline to put its brand on flights flown by its partners.

Federal Aviation Administration chief Jane Garvey told the same hearing that information being gathered by the Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) would be critical in making decisions about international flights.

"I think we are going to have some very hard decisions post June 30, together with the State Department and the industry, once we understand what the situation is," Garvey said.

The Y2K problem occurs because until recently most computers and their software only allocated two digits for the year in a date.

Unless computers are repaired or replaced, the year 2000 may be read as 1900, causing mistakes or systems to crash. The FAA was late in starting work on fixing or replacing the elderly patchwork of hundreds of computers that make up its air traffic control system.

While it will not meet the Clinton administration's deadline to have all of its systems repaired, tested and operational by March 31, Garvey is promising to have the work done by June 30.

The General Accounting Office, the congressional auditor, believes Garvey is overly optimistic.

"If FAA can pull it off - great," said GAO information systems expert Joel Willemssen. "I'm not sure they can with the thoroughness of testing we'll be looking for."

Mead, the DOT's inspector general, said he would rather see the job done right than have the June 30 deadline met artificially, a view he felt sure the FAA shared.

"I think everybody up here shares that view also," said Rep. Steve Horn, the California Republican who chairs the House Government Reform technology subcommittee.

FAA hopes to have all 65 of its air traffic control systems repaired, tested and back in operation by the end of June. At the end of February, work had been completed on only 21 of the systems, or 32 percent of the total.

Contingency plans are also being drawn up by the FAA to cope with failures. In any case, Garvey repeated that safety would not be compromised and the number of flights would be cut if necessary to maintain safe operations.

GAO was particularly critical of what it said was inadequate testing of a 1960s-vintage computer system that handles critical radar information during planes' approach to airports.

Garvey said Lockheed Martin Corp. , which maintained the system, would be sending a letter later Monday backing its opinion that the system was year-2000 ready but expressing willingness to subject the system to further testing.

"We do not minimize the challenge ahead of us, but I really do think we have it laid out in a methodical way that will allow us to meet that challenge," she said.

The Air Transport Association (ATA), which represents the airlines carrying over 90 percent of U.S. air traffic, is comfortable with the FAA's progress.

"Domestically we have things way under control, and internationally we will have to see what these (ICAO) results are," ATA Year 2000 Director Tom Browne told Reuters outside the hearing.


Wonder when they will be making the tough decisions within the US?


-- Ray (ray@totacc.com), March 15, 1999


Let's see... By the end of February, the FAA (self-reported?) had 32 percent of the ATC systems repaired, tested and back in operation. And the remaining 68 oercent will be finished by the end of June which leads Tom Browne to say, "Domestically we have things way under control..." I hope Tom's in the seat next to Jane.

-- Vic (Roadrunner@compliant.com), March 15, 1999.

32% ? June 30??? No mention of the need to replace the ATC mainframes? Notice the softpedaling of the June 30 date (lets not meet that date "artificially"!!! I am willing to wager 10K that they won't meet the June 30 date and will announce "substantial" compliance by a Sept 30 deadline instead.

-- RD. ->H (drherr@erols.com), March 15, 1999.

Of course there will be no planes falling from the sky. There will be no planes in the sky.
Plus no ships allowed to sail.

xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx

-- Ashton & Leska in Cascadia (allaha@earthlink.net), March 15, 1999.

repeat after me: "There will be no planes falling from the sky; there will be no planes falling from the sky; there will be no sky falling from the planes; there will be no pie falling from the skanes...there is nothing to worry about...you are getting very sleepy...y2k is nothing but a bump in the road...Hitler will never invade Poland...if you don't acknowledge a problem, it doesn't exist"....etc. etc.

-- cody varian (cody@y2ksurvive.com), March 16, 1999.

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