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Contingency plan urged for "unknowns"

An international air safety body asks those in the air transportation industry to develop Year 2000 contingency plans to handle the "unknowns" that may occur.

An international air safety body today urged those in the air transportation industry to develop Year 2000 technology problem contingency plans to handle the "unknowns" that may occur next year.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) hosted a meeting of 14 countries, four international aviation organizations, pilots' unions and private communication companies in Brisbane, Australia, to develop Y2K contingency plans for air routes between Australia, New Zealand, Asia, and North and South America. The meeting was also aimed at looking at air traffic communications, navigation, radar systems, and routing.

"As in other industries there are companies and areas where some are compliant and others are not compliant," ICAO information officer Denis Chagnon told CNET "You never know."

According to the Japanese news service Xinhua, ICAO Asia Pacific regional officer John Richardson told the press in Australia that contingency plans already in place to handle cyclones, typhoons and severe storms would cope with any problems created by Y2K.

"Airplanes will be safe and we won't be having collisions," he said.

On New Year's Day, more space would be allowed between each take-off and landing and between planes in the air, but no extra emergency crews would be posted at airports.

Richardson said the contingency plans decided upon at the meeting would prepare airlines for every possibility from the failure of a single air traffic control system or the worst case scenario--multiple system failures.

But he said it would be up to individual Back to Year 2000 Index Page governments to decide whether to ground aircraft in the case of any system failures, Xinhua reported.

"One of the problems with Y2K is its unknown quantity," he said, "but if you get on an airplane, it will be safe to fly."

In the United States, as earlier reported, the FAA was sharply criticized in Congress for its slow start in dealing with the Year 2000 problem. But the FAA now says it is on track to meet a March 30 government repair deadline for all departments and agencies.

The FAA's admits its task has been complicated by the patchwork of hundreds of older computers that make up the air traffic control system.

And like its international brethren, contingency plans are being developed by the FAA just in case some systems fail but that would mean that, to preserve safety, fewer planes would fly, which could spell huge delays on the ground.

Even if the U.S. air traffic control system is ready by the end of next year, the safety of millions of passengers will depend on how well other countries address the issue, US aviation officials warn.

The Year 2000 bug could cripple software that cannot accommodate a four-digit entry for the current year. Thus when 2000 begins, many programs will register only the "00" and read the date as 1900.