Los Angeles mayor seeks probe into LAX computer glitches

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Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has asked for an investigation into recurring problems with government security screening computers at Los Angeles International Airport after many thousands of people were stranded on aircraft and in terminals over the weekend.

The problems began Saturday August 11, when a computer switch failed on a US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) local area network that carries travellers’ identity information and law enforcement records, says a CBP spokesman.

The failure created cascading delays in international flight arrivals and departures with some outbound flights reportedly delayed as much as 14hr, and as many as 20,000 passengers stranded.

“We’ve had smaller outages before but this was unprecedented,” says the spokesman. “This created havoc for all concerned.”

A second switch failed late on August 12. This affected only one of nine terminals at the airport - the Tom Bradley facility - and was repaired quickly, so no passengers were stranded on aircraft, says the CBP spokesman. 

The two switch failures were “unrelated,” he says, noting that they are not part of the same network.

Airport operations “are back to normal” today, he adds. The airport’s web site this morning reported only general arrival and departure delays of less than 15min.

The delays have spurred Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to ask the Department of Homeland Security to investigate. “I have been in contact with Department of Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff and senior CPB officials to request a formal investigation and incident report, which should include changes to procedures and protocols to ensure faster and more convenient processing of passengers in the event of future systems failures,” says Villaraigosa in a statement.

Villaraigosa has also asked for an increase in CBP staffing at both Los Angeles International Airport and nearby Ontario International Airport to allow for more flexible response to future problems.

The CBP, meanwhile, is “making changes and investigating other avenues and systems” that could help avoid or mitigate such computer incidents in the future, says the agency’s spokesman.