FAA computer problem causes widespread delays

Nov 19 2009 - 11:41am

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(JOHN SPINK/The Associated Press) Flight cancellations appear on screens near AirTran ticketing counters at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta Thursday.
(JOHN SPINK/The Associated Press) Flight cancellations appear on screens near AirTran ticketing counters at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta Thursday.

ATLANTA aEU" Air travelers nationwide scrambled to revise their plans Thursday after an FAA computer glitch caused widespread cancellations and delays for the second time in 15 months.

The Federal Aviation Administration said the problem, which lasted about five hours, was fixed around 10 a.m., but it was unclear how long flights would be affected.

Doug Church, a spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Union, said controllers were still entering flight plans manually in some locations even after the glitch was fixed.

Aviation officials told The Associated Press that the problem began at the computer center in Salt Lake City. The officials asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

FAA spokesman Paul Takemoto said the problem started between 5:15 and 5:30 a.m. Airplane dispatchers had to send plans to controllers, who entered them by hand.

aEUoeItaEU(tm)s slowing everything down,aEU Takemoto said.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the worldaEU(tm)s busiest, was particularly affected. The problem also exacerbated delays caused by bad weather in the Northeast, with airports in the Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York metro areas reporting problems.

Some flights were more than two hours behind schedule. Airports around the South also reported delays and cancellations.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, said the countryaEU(tm)s aviation system is aEUoein shamblesaEU and the FAA needs more resources to prevent such problems from continuing.

aEUoeIf we donaEU(tm)t deliver the resources, manpower, and technology the FAA it needs to upgrade the system, these technical glitches that cause cascading delays and chaos across the country are going to become a very regular occurrence,aEU he said in a statement.

In Atlanta, sisters Sharon Walker and Sheila James were taking their elderly mother, Rosa Washington, to see their other sister in St. Louis. The trioaEU(tm)s 9:30 a.m. flight out of Hartsfield-Jackson was delayed until 4 p.m.

aEUoeWe were going to be there for a four-day weekend, but now itaEU(tm)s getting cut short,aEU James said as she sat with her family in airport atrium. aEUoeItaEU(tm)s just not a good day.aEU

AirTran canceled at least 22 flights and delayed dozens more. Delta Air Lines was also affected. American Airlines spokesman Tim Smith said several hundred flights would be delayed around the country. He said American was told the problem would be fixed soon, aEUoebut once you get behind, it tends to stay that wayaEU throughout the day.

Julie King, a spokeswoman for Continental Airlines, said delays averaged about an hour from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. and were concentrated at the carrieraEU(tm)s hubs in Houston, Cleveland and Newark, N.J. JetBlue Airways said 25 of its flights at JFK had average delays of 60 minutes and delays at other airports were up to 30 minutes.

Passengers were asked to check the status of their flights online before going to airports.

At Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Va., nearly all departures were still on time. But passengers on AirTran flight 63 to Atlanta were trying to make other arrangements after that flight was canceled.

Hilda Ruffin of Manassas, a senior citizen who uses a wheelchair, said the airline urged passengers to head to nearby Reagan National Airport to catch another flight to Atlanta. She eventually lobbied the airline for a free shuttle pass to Reagan.

aEUoeI really fought for it...I donaEU(tm)t have the money to pay for a cab,aEU said Ruffin, who was trying to get to San Antonio.

HoustonaEU(tm)s two airports and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport reported few delays but said things could get worse, especially for travelers headed east. Los Angeles International Airport also reported that delays were likely later in the day.

The problem hinged on flight plans collected by the FAA for traffic nationwide at two centers aEU" one in Salt Lake City and the other in the Atlanta area.

Victor Santore, the National Air Traffic Controllers Union southern region vice president, said he began getting e-mail messages from air traffic controllers around 7 a.m. EST Thursday that the Atlanta-area computers had stopped processing plans.

Santore said some controllers were pulled away from their normal duties talking to airplanes or pulled off breaks to help enter the flight plans.

aEUoeWhen something crazy like this happens, weaEU(tm)ll pull everybody onto the floor,aEU Santore said. aEUoeEvery airport at some point some will be affected ... (The delays) are going to ripple through the entire system.aEU

In August 2008, a software malfunction delayed hundreds of flights around the country.

In that episode, the Northeast was hardest hit by the delays because of a glitch at the Hampton, Ga., facility that processes flight plans for the eastern half of the U.S.

The FAA said at that time the source of the computer software malfunction was a aEUoepacket switchaEU that aEUoefailed due to a database mismatch.aEU
aEU"aEU"aEU"

Associated Press Writers Joan Lowy in Washington, D.C., Marcus Franklin in New York, David Koenig in Dallas, Johnny Clark and Dionne Walker in Atlanta, and Matt Barakat in Chantilly, Va., contributed to this report.

Updated 10:30 a.m.


ATLANTA -- There are widespread flight cancellations and delays nationwide because of a problem with the FAA system that collects airlines' flight plans.

FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen says she doesn't know how many flights are being affected or when the problem will be resolved.

An AirTran Airways spokesman says Thursday there's no danger to flights in the air, and flights are still taking off and landing.

However, spokesman Christopher White says flight plans are having to be inputted manually because of a malfunction with the automated system.

As a result, there are delays and cancellations.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world's busiest airport, has been particularly affected.

AirTran has canceled 22 flights and dozens more flights have been delayed as of 8 a.m. EST. Delta Air Lines also has suffered.

 

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