FAA Failing In Efforts
To Cure Y2K Bug
Many Flights May Be Grounded For Up To Six Months
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 computer systems.
"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 curtailed.
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

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