Who's worried about Y2K?

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Who's worried about Y2K?

Given the concern over Y2K computer problems, would you fly in a plane as 2000 arrives? Take our survey on the business page.

Y2K and the airlines

Probability: 99.9 percent Scenario: Passengers feel that with so much Y2K hype, its better to limit airline travel in the first month of 2000. Passenger traffic is down by 15 percent in the first few days, gradually returning to normal by the end of January. Cost: At least $400 million in lost revenues.

Probability: 70 percent Scenario: Y2K problems will manifest themselves in a variety of ways, including equipment failing to work or providing inaccurate data. The FAA responds by reducing the number of allowed flights in January, which shakes consumer confidence. Cost: $2.1 billion

Probability: less than 25 percent Scenario: Controllers revert to a backup component of the air traffice control system and until the main component is restored, FAA reduces the number of allowed flights in January and February. Nervous consumers take fewer flights. Cost: At least $5.2 billion

Probability: 5 percent or less Scenario: Software or equipment provides inaccurate or unreliable data to controllers, resulting in an increase in operational errors and near misses. Until the problem is corrected, FAA reduces the number of allowed flights in January and February. Jittery consumers take fewer flights. Cost: $3.8 billion

Probability: less than 2 percent Scenario: FAA responds by sharply limiting the number of allowed flights in January and February while it tries to correct the problem. Frightened consumers avoid flying. Cost: Almost $8 billion

SOURCE: The Y2K Threat to Air Traffic Control  Airline shareholders, Airports and Consumers at Risk, by The Boyd Group and RMB Associates, Evergreen, Colo. Data is based on annual revenues and cost data for the nine largest U.S. passenger carriers.

Annual Worldwide Air Traffic

1.3 billion passengers 26 million metric tons of cargo Carried by 262 airlines that are members of the Montreal-based International Air Transport Association Generating $273 billion in revenue. Source: International Air Transport Association

Jet set makes plans to be in the sky as 2000 arrives


Forget Y2K. The jet-set crowd, and plenty of other people, will party at the end of 1999. With thousands making travel plans to celebrate the close of the millennium, it's already passe to fret about computer problems that the year 2000 may generate with passenger air traffic.

American Airlines' bookings show its airplanes will fly almost 7 percentage points fuller on Jan. 1, 2000 than on New Year's Day this year, spokesman John Hotard said. And those are only bookings made in the first quarter, which means the flights on South Florida's dominant carrier will get more crowded. Nationwide, travel agents are reporting heavy demand for trips around the start of 2000, said James Ashurst, spokesman for the American Society of Travel Agents. Eighty-five percent of the group's 15,000 agents have booked New Year's get-aways. "It's traditionally a heavy period of travel, and when you couple that with the millennium, it's going to mean a very heavy travel time," Ashurst said. "People may be concerned (about year 2000 computer problems.) But it isn't making them not book trips." However, one international carrier has said it won't fly on New Year's Eve. London-based Virgin Atlantic Airways, which flies to Miami, said it would ground its fleet to give its employees a night off -- but to enjoy the holiday, not because of concern that computers would malfunction, the airline said. Cargo airlines, which don't book as far in advance as January, also are approaching the changeover to 2000 cautiously. Two that fly out of South Florida -- giant Federal Express and smaller Arrow Air -- say they expect some disruptions in their service as a result of year 2000 computer glitches in the less-developed and less Y2K-ready countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. "It's too early to tell whether service will be normal, whether it'll be business as usual," FedEx spokesman Greg Rossiter said. "There's work to be done." Two Colorado-based aviation consultants go further, saying they fear that the United State's air-traffic-control system won't be fully prepared for 2000. They warn in a report that its unreadiness could cost airlines millions, or even billions, of dollars in lost revenues. American Airlines brought in $17.3 billion in revenues from carrying passengers and cargo last year. FedEx reported $13.3 billion in revenues from delivering packages to 209 countries in its last fiscal year. Delays in cargo delivery would have a broader impact, as companies increasingly rely on materials delivered by air freight, rather than stored in warehouses, to do their business. Forty percent of the world's trade, measured by value, is moved by air, Rossiter said. The computer problem, commonly referred to as the Y2K glitch, is a legacy of the days when software writers saved space by expressing years with two digits. That means an unfixed computer won't be able to tell 2000 from 1900 and might shut down in confusion. The problem could affect all date-sensitive computer functions, including systems used by U.S. air traffic controllers to track and communicate with airplanes in flight. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, which runs the nation's air traffic control system, says it expects no problems from the transition to 2000. The agency, widely criticized for a late start on addressing Y2K, bases its optimistic prediction on preliminary results from a readiness test of its systems conducted at Denver International Airport and nearby air traffic facilities in mid-April. The FAA said it considered this a national test because the systems at Denver are identical to systems used nationwide. Final test results, and computer fixes, are expected by the end of June -- three months past a government-wide deadline of March 31. "All our systems are scheduled to be Y2K compliant by June 30," FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said. "And we're on track for that." The FAA's optimism is backed up by organizations such as the Washington-based Air Transport Association, which represents 23 of the largest U.S. carriers. They carry 95 percent of passengers and cargo in the country and are working with airports, suppliers and the government to create Y2K contingency plans. "The Denver test means we can look for the FAA's system to operate normally," said Thomas Browne, director of the association's Aviation Millennium Project. "What we're basically talking about is what kind of minor problems are we going to encounter and how are we going to deal with them." However, two aviation consultants say the FAA probably won't be fully prepared for 2000. "The FAA's saying everything's fine, everything's fixed, but everything isn't fixed," said Michael Boyd, co-author of The Y2K Threat to Air Traffic Control -- Airline Shareholders, Airports and Consumers at Risk, a report published on May 7. "What they showed at Denver is that the system at Denver worked for five hours. It doesn't show what will happen nationwide over a period of time. They did not test the complexity of the entire air-traffic-control system." The FAA has 641 different computer systems, including a communications system that allows controllers and pilots to talk to one another. Ninety percent of the systems have been "fixed" to be Y2K compliant, said Bergen, the spokeswoman. The most important FAA computer system, called "the host," will be replaced by compliant systems in 22 air traffic control centers in the United States by Sept. 30. The hosts not replaced by June 30 will be fixed as backup systems -- in case the replacement computers aren't installed before 2000, Bergen said. Thus far, 14 hosts have been replaced, including the one in Miami. The FAA will conduct field tests of its fixes and replacements until the end of the year, but has no plans to do a nationwide test, Bergen said. That's what makes Boyd and his fellow Colorado aviation consultant, R. Michael Baiada, nervous. They fear that as the various fixed systems interact, they may not be able to provide accurate data to controllers, for example by showing an airline flying at 30,000 feet when it's actually flying at 3,000 feet. Other aviation experts think the Y2K issue is greatly exaggerated. The most likely problem won't be with aircraft operations, but with date-sensitive functions, such as managing FAA's payroll, said John Steele, president of Information Systems Technology, a Miami software consulting firm that works with aviation companies. Even if an air-traffic center shut down, controllers could space out aircraft departures and landings and use radar information to manually process the landings, Steele said. And, pilots are responsible anyway for not crashing into other aircraft, he said. "Airplanes will not bump into each other," Steele said. "They will not plummet from the sky." The U.S. air traffic control system suffers minor failures almost every day, which sometimes results in flight delays. But most accidents are due to factors other than air traffic control, such as human error and weather, Steele said. That said, the airlines will take a big hit if consumers become jittery about Y2K, Steele said. The public, rightly or wrongly, will blame Year 2000 glitches for any airline accident in the first few weeks of next year, he said. Complicating the Y2K matter is uncertainty over the readiness of air traffic systems outside the United States. The Montreal-based International Air Transport Association is surveying the readiness of systems at 2,000 airports in the 185 countries its 262 member airlines fly to. The association won't release the survey results because it collected the information confidentially, spokeswoman Nancy Gautiersaid. "We're aiming for a mid-summer date for completion of Y2K readiness efforts," Gautier said. "You'll know an area may have a problem if they haven't completed their work by early fall." Less developed countries in Latin America and the Caribbean won't be too bad off, Steele said. Some areas don't have automated air-traffic-control systems and therefore are immune to Y2K glitches. Other areas only recently became automated and therefore have modern equipment that is compliant or easily fixable or replaceable. Latin America and the Caribbean also have less to worry about than the United States does because their skies are less crowded, said Ian Bertrand, an aviation consultant based in Trinidad. American Airlines says its bookings show that the Caribbean, Central America and Europe are popular New Year's destinations, spokesman John Hotard said. "We anticipate flying a full schedule come Jan. 1," he said. In the Caribbean, whose No. 1 industry is hosting tourists and which depends heavily on imported products, airlines and hoteliers have been quietly urging aviation authorities to be Y2K ready, Bertrand said. Both American Airlines and Federal Express say they are working with authorities in other countries to help them reach compliance. "Can we control them? No," said Rossiter, the FedEx spokesman. "Can we influence and assist them? Yes." The company is investing more than $50 million to build a Latin America cargo hub in Miami. Arrow Air, which ferries cargo between its Miami headquarters and nine countries to the south, expects the worst Y2K problem to be occasional arrival delays at the foreign airports. A 24-hour delay for one airplane will cost the 12-plane company $20,000, President and CEO Guillermo Cabeza said. "There's going to be some problems with Y2K in Central and South America and the Caribbean," Cabeza said. "But it's not going to be a significant impact."

-- Norm (nwo@hotmail.com), May 16, 1999


+ What about pilots and labor unions everywhere in the world vis-a-vis lack of insurance coverage for planes, crews and passengers?

+ What about jet fuel supplies everywhere in the world ?

+ What about other supplies as essential as fuel, i.e., lube oil, hydraulic fluids, tyres, power outages (which don't necessarily need to be black-outs as brown-outs would do the job), fuel supply for power generators, traffic lights and gasoline to get to the airport, etc.

+ What about banks and REAL money to pay the tickets with?

+ What about non-compliant intermediate control stations and destination airports?

+ What about the planes themselves and their spare parts?

+ What will happen the instant an airplane accident takes place, either Y2K-triggered or not? What will people's reaction be? Won't everyone just ASSUME it was Y2K induced?

Get real guys, don't kid yourselves

-- George (jvilches@sminter.com.ar), May 16, 1999.


You have to understand that Norm doesn't *believe* there is any big problem, here or anywhere else, that will cause any significant impact on our current way of life. For Norm, it just isn't going to happen. He's just as sure that there are no great dangers ahead as we others here are sure that there are. Read his posts if you like, but don't try to change his mind. Not possible.

-- Gordon (gpconnolly@aol.com), May 16, 1999.

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