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Cloudy skies in FAA's Y2K forecast?

More than a third of Federal Aviation Administration computers will not meet the March 31 deadline for government-wide Year 2000 compliance set by the Clinton Administration.

    More than a third of Federal Aviation Administration computers will not meet the March 31 deadline for government-wide Year 2000 compliance set by the Clinton Administration, FAA officials said today.

    Although all FAA computer systems requiring Y2K repairs have been renovated and are in the process of being tested, aviation officials conceded the agency was about seven months late in starting its attack. Consequently, it will fall 35 percent short of the March deadline established for all government agencies.

    Back to Year 2000 Index Page The agency is set on sticking to its own deadlines, which officials say they established before the president's Office of Management and Budget deadline of March 31 was set.

    "By June 31 all of our testing of the computers will be done, along with the implementation of the computers as well," said FAA spokesperson Paul Takemoto.

    On March 31 the FAA will have just 65 percent of the agency's computers tested and implemented, with the other 35 percent to be Y2K ready by June 31, Takemoto added.

    The FAA is conducting end-to-end tests "above and beyond" the individual system tests for many of its mission critical ATC systems, the agency said. End-to-end tests are essential since those systems interact with multiple systems, and the agency needs to make sure that data is properly transmitted through the interfaces.

    To that end, at least 30 mission critical ATC systems have successfully completed two of three extensive end-to-end test sessions at the FAA's William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Those systems include the computers that drive air traffic controller displays at both Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) and Air Route Traffic Control Center Facilities, according to an FAA Y2K progress report released yesterday.

    The larger question is whether aviation-related computer systems beyond the FAA's umbrella of control will be prepared.

    See special report: Date with disaster Despite its assertions that it is making good progress in ridding its computer systems of the Year 2000 technology problem, the FAA has continued to score low on the quarterly progress reports conducted by the House subcommittee on government management, information, and technology.

    Last month, the subcommittee flunked the federal aviation agency for not making adequate progress on their Y2K compliance projects.

    The FAA and other federal departments cited for problems in the report said there was no cause for concern because they expected their computers to be ready in time.

    "Although the problem of converting these systems to the year 2000 was recognized long ago, its lack of attention--inside and outside the federal government--has turned this manageable problem into a potential crisis," the subcommittee's chairman, Rep. Stephen Horn (R-California) told a news conference last month.

    The report said the FAA's antiquated air traffic control system was largely to blame. With more than 250 different computers making up the air traffic control system, the FAA has been struggling to check and fix 23 million lines of computer code.

    The FAA said then, and now, that its systems are scheduled to be implemented as Y2K compliant by June 30, adding that air passengers had no reason to fear problems.

    The so-called millennium bug refers to the fact that many computers are programmed to register only the last two digits of the year, meaning that "2000" may be read as "1900." If left uncorrected, such programs could generate errors and scramble the computers that companies use to keep track of customers, run their payrolls, handle their accounts, run elevators, and monitor air traffic.

    As the government's efforts on the whole have moved along it has become clear that some government computers won't make the March 1999 deadline. About 10 to 15 percent of government systems will not meet the deadline, according to White House officials.

    The White House insists that the vast majority of the federal government will make the March deadline. But for those who are not confident the FAA will pull through, the administration will ask for monthly updates on the status of lagging Y2K programs and systems.