Several System Failures During Last Nine Years

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2008-09-24 Print this article Print

This excerpt comes from the FAA's own Web site (PDF format), dated Aug. 22:

"The aforementioned NADIN outage last evening [Aug. 21] caused more than 100 delays after flight plans were rejected. The outage is currently being blamed for 134 departure delays but this figure could climb. The legacy NADIN in Atlanta crashed. Salt Lake City took over but had problems with the high queue level ..."

International intelligence analytical firm Stratfor, in an analysis published on Aug. 27, reported a similar system outage back in 2000. Another was reported in June 2007 in addition to the Aug. 21 and Aug. 26 crashes. Those are the ones we know about; we don't know how many others were never made public information.

"Interruptions to a master flight plan system is not just inconvenience, [they are] a major safety risk," server administrator, high-mileage air traveler and eWEEK reader Jeff Milne wrote in a comment on one of our earlier stories in this series.

"Airport congestion caused by an extremely high number of flights stuck on the Tarmac can easily cause breaches of air space or worse as the congestion grows due to flights coming in from other locations not affected by the Eastern outage."

In March 2005, a new contract was awarded for a "NextGen" NADIN replacement. No doubt that process took several months, or perhaps even a year or more, to formulate. So the FAA has been well aware for at least four years that the old system has served its purpose and is ready to be replaced.

In fact, the agency had been given warning as far back as 2000 (and perhaps even sooner than that) that the system was beginning to fail.

The FAA has begun replacing the old Phillips DS714 mainframes with new heavy-duty Stratus FTserver 6400s, which run on Intel Xeon processors. The system was designed by Lockheed Martin engineers. But they are not in main production at this time, or else they would have been able to help share the load during the major outage of Aug. 26.

Thus, the legacy-and that's putting it nicely-NADIN system appears to be  hanging on for dear life. The new replacement system isn't expected to go online until the end of 2008, FAA spokesman Paul Takemoto told me.

Chris Preimesberger Chris Preimesberger was named Editor-in-Chief of Features & Analysis at eWEEK in November 2011. Previously he served eWEEK as Senior Writer, covering a range of IT sectors that include data center systems, cloud computing, storage, virtualization, green IT, e-discovery and IT governance. His blog, Storage Station, is considered a go-to information source. Chris won a national Folio Award for magazine writing in November 2011 for a cover story on and CEO-founder Marc Benioff, and he has served as a judge for the SIIA Codie Awards since 2005. In previous IT journalism, Chris was a founding editor of both IT Manager's Journal and and was managing editor of Software Development magazine. His diverse resume also includes: sportswriter for the Los Angeles Daily News, covering NCAA and NBA basketball, television critic for the Palo Alto Times Tribune, and Sports Information Director at Stanford University. He has served as a correspondent for The Associated Press, covering Stanford and NCAA tournament basketball, since 1983. He has covered a number of major events, including the 1984 Democratic National Convention, a Presidential press conference at the White House in 1993, the Emmy Awards (three times), two Rose Bowls, the Fiesta Bowl, several NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments, a Formula One Grand Prix auto race, a heavyweight boxing championship bout (Ali vs. Spinks, 1978), and the 1985 Super Bowl. A 1975 graduate of Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., Chris has won more than a dozen regional and national awards for his work. He and his wife, Rebecca, have four children and reside in Redwood City, Calif.Follow on Twitter: editingwhiz

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