Despite intense domestic criticism of its lateness in getting to grips with the year 2000 computer problem, the US Federal Aviation Administration sees itself leading the world's aviation industry safely into the new century.


Exactly what the USA will do to safeguard American travellers in those parts of the world that are not ready for the date rollover is still unclear. The FAA has allowed the International Air Transport Association and International Civil Aviation Organisation to take the lead in ensuring that non-US airlines, airports and air traffic service providers are Y2K-capable. But the Department of Transportation is unlikely to hand over its responsibility for protecting US citizens, and is expected to issue advisories warning airline passengers against travel to countries unable to prove their Y2K compliance - much as it today posts warning of inadequate airport security.


First, the FAA has to get its own house in order. Administrator Jane Garvey has acknowledged that the agency was seriously late in beginning its Y2K programme, but the FAA now believes it is ahead of other US Government departments in tackling the problem. As recently as February, the FAA was seven months behind schedule; now it claims to be "on track" to complete renovation of its systems by the 30 September deadline.


An extensive validation phase will follow. Testing is scheduled to be completed by 31 March, 1999, leading to certification of all FAA computer systems as Y2K capable by 30 June - six months ahead of the date rollover. The agency acknowledges that these dates are behind those stipulated by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which is overseeing the Government's Y2K programme and has set deadlines of 31 January for validation and 31 March for certification.


"We are looking at having 90% of all systems certiÞcated by 31 March, and the remaining 10% by 30 June," says the FAA. The agency's updates on its progress continue to meet with scepticism, however, not least because of its poor record of bringing large software-intensive projects in on time.


"We knew we had to do something differently," says Ray Long, the dynamic director of the FAA's Y2K programme office. "We could not operate the way we did before and succeed." Garvey's creation of a centralised programme office and appointment of a Y2K "czar" were among the innovations.


The FAA is organised into quasi-independent business lines. Breaking down the internal management and communications barriers that have hindered previous projects has been a major part of the programme office's task. "Programme management is centralised, and not with the individual business lines," Long says, adding: "We are getting the support we need from the business lines."


Long came from the FAA's air traffic services (ATS) division, which began tackling the Y2K problem back in May 1997. With creation of the programme ofÞce, the majority of procedures pioneered by the ATS division were embodied into the repair approach adopted across the FAA. This has Þve phases - awareness, assessment, renovation, validation and implementation - with associated deadlines.




While individual business lines are responsible for repairing their systems, the programme office operates a "war room" providing independent verification and validation. Long explains why: "How do I know that what the people in the fleld are telling me is accurate, and that their systems have been repaired according to the correct process? I don't trust anybody at this point, hence the need for independent verification and validation."


Although the task facing the FAA has been formidable, Long says it has been more of a management, than a technical, challenge. Some 209 mission critical systems, plus a larger number of less critical computers, have had to be assessed and either renovated or replaced. The FAA struck lucky when tests of the elderly, but vital, host computer used at its en route control centres showed that the 1975-vintage machine does not have a Y2K problem, but instead will be unable to cope with the date rollover to 1 January, 2007.


The agency still plans to replace the host computers at all 20 US en route centres by October 1999, but will now be able to use the existing machines as backups if that schedule slips. Contingency planning is a major part of the Y2K programme office's current task. The effectiveness of these plans are being reviewed by the US General Accounting Office, the Congressional which has in the past been highly critical of the FAA's progress.


While the FAA moves ahead with its $156 million programme to ensure that the US air traffic management infrastructure is Y2K capable, the Air Transport Association (ATA) has embarked on a $16 million programme to ensure that US and Canadian airlines will also be ready. The aim of this programme is mainly to gather and disseminate information to eliminate duplication of effort.


The Washington, DC-based ATA is coordinating information across its member airlines, as well as airports, suppliers, manufacturers and government agencies. It is also the chief link between the carriers and the International Air Transport Association, which has its own $20 million Y2K programme (see page 65).


"What we are trying to do is gather all the available information for the airlines so that it only has to be done once," says Tom Browne, the ATA's year 2000 programme executive director. A secure website has been set up for data gleaned by the ATA so that all authorised parties can get access to the latest information. The ATA is contacting hundreds of airports, thousands of commercial suppliers and all relevant government agencies, including customs and immigration, asking them for details of their year 2000 compliance status. The major goal is to have a baseline database completed by the end of 1998.




The Washington, DC-based Airports Council International (ACI), meanwhile, has had a Year 2000 programme running for two years and has been coordinating with the ATA since late 1997. The ACI has completed an inventory of computer systems at selected airports and the information gleaned is being forwarded to other airports because many of the problems discovered will be common.


Some organisations were slow to realise the extent of the Y2K problem with embedded processors, such as the microchips in each runway light, says the ATA's Browne. "We were a little late in the airport business to raise the issue of embedded processors," admits Dick Marchi, senior vice-president of technical and environmental affairs and chief Y2K coordinator for the ACI. "The key thing is to make sure that people are aware not only of the problem, but also the subtleties of the problem," he says.


Marchi says that the number of Y2K-affected systems at airports is typically not as large as in other industries. Generally, he says, airports are finding that some 200 systems need attention and, of those, only 50 to 60 are critical to operations. "That is not huge compared with some of the manufacturing industries that are heavily reliant on computers," he says.


North American airlines, meanwhile, are running their own Y2K programmes, the estimated costs of which vary widely. American Airlines and Delta Air Lines each expect to spend over $100 million repairing or replacing affected systems, while Northwest Airlines says it will spend $55 million and cargo carrier FedEx expects a $40 million bill. Southwest Airlines, in contrast, estimates that its Y2K programme will cost only $15 million - a figure which the airline says is in line with its overall low-cost philosophy.




Most of the major airlines have internal web pages for employees and most have used outside information technology consultants for at least part of their programmes - usually in the early awareness stages. Some will bring those consultants back for the validation phase. "It's a very good way to bring an independent set of eyes to what you are doing," says FedEx's year 2000 project managing director Dinah Allison.


All the majors stress that they are where they should be in their Y2K timetables and most have given themselves such comfortable margins that they will be spending most of the time remaining drawing up contingency plans or liaising with suppliers to rule out problems entering their systems from outside.


Overall, the North American air transport industry feels it has its house in order, although there are lingering worries about its interfaces with the outside world, including utilities such as power and communications, and increasing concern about the likely readiness of the international community.


Those remaining issues aside, the industry does not believes there will be a major problem when the date rolls over. "From where we stand now, I don't think anybody will be in crisis,"says the ACI's Marchi. The ATA's Browne agrees, saying: "I believe the industry will be ready." The FAA's Garvey and Long, meanwhile, plan to demonstrate their conÞdence by ßying through all the US timezones as 31 December, 1999, becomes 1 January, 2000.

Source: Flight International