- WASHINGTON - The Federal Aviation Administration is so far behind in its
efforts to fix the Year 2000 computer glitch that half the nation's air
fleet may have to be grounded during the earliest days, weeks or months
of the new millennium, congressional officials say.
- With 695 days left until Jan. 1, 2000,
top FAA officials go to Capitol Hill Wednesday, where they will be asked
about their failure to act more aggressively and the need for contingency
plans to assure public safety.
- The FAA expects to complete upgrading
its most critical systems by November 1999. But independent auditors will
testify today that at its current pace, just 7% complete, FAA will not
make the deadline.
- "The FAA faces having to ground
25% of their flights, (perhaps) 50% or more," says Rep. Steve Horn,
R-Calif., who will co-chair the hearing. "There are too many questions
and too few answers."
- The Year 2000 bug results from computer
codes that are incapable of comprehending dates beyond 1999.
- After months of congressional pressure,
the White House will announce as early as today creation of an office to
oversee the nearly $4 billion federal effort to identify and repair affected
- "Our efforts have been and will
be to insure that we will not have to implement contingency plans,"
says FAA Administrator Jane Garvey.
- "Safety will not be compromised."
- No one claims that planes will fall from
the skies, critics say safety will prevail only because traffic will be
- Congress and the Office of Management
and Budget previously criticized FAA efforts. But today's hearings will
raise the spectre of problems persisting well into 2000.
- Also being released at today's hearing:
a scathing report from the General Accounting Office and a Department of
Transportation inspector general critique.
- "FAA has moved with a sense of urgency
in the past few months," says DOT Inspector General Ken Mead. "But
they have a long way to go. This is a date that won't slip and FAA's experience
bringing in technology programs has not been stellar." Money is not
the issue, Mead says. "The real problem is time."
- Thomas Brown of the Air Transport Association,
representing 35 major carriers, says he's confident airlines will fly on
Jan. 1, 2000. "We will try to get as close to 100% capacity as we
can, but we certainly will operate at 100% safety."
- By M.J. Zuckerman, USA TODAY