- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 24, 2008

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The government system that issues preflight notices to pilots about runway, equipment and security issues had been down for more than 16 hours, but passenger safety has not been compromised, the Federal Aviation Administration said yesterday.

The database has not been able to issue updates or new notices since late Thursday, but pilots have continued to receive any relevant information from local air traffic controllers and through alternate systems, FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said yesterday.

The servers, which date back to the 1980s, had gone down before for a few minutes, but this is the longest pilots have been without the service, Ms. Brown said. The data is now being transferred to new hardware that had been scheduled to replace the older system within two weeks, and was working by 4:30 p.m. EDT, she added.

All commercial and business jet pilots were alerted of the problem through a related federal system that has continued to collect any notices to airmen, or notams. But until the problem is resolved, the FAA is deferring any scheduled equipment maintenance work that would normally require a notice, Ms. Brown said.

Any local airport or airspace issues that arose after the system went down, including storm damage that closed some runways in Houston, were transmitted to pilots by air traffic controllers, Ms. Brown said, adding that the FAA was not aware of any flight delays or cancelations resulting from the problem.

The system is also used to notify pilots of malfunctioning navigational aids, missile launches and special traffic management programs, according to the agency’s Web site.

David Castelveter, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association, said the nation’s largest carriers are aware of the issue and that “operations are running smoothly.”

Pilots were told the FAA database suffered a “disc failure,” but should be back up by the end of the day, said Chris Dancy, a spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which supports the general aviation industry and says it represents two-thirds of all pilots in the U.S.

Ms. Brown said the backup server worked so slowly when it came on that the agency opted to take the whole thing down.

The broken server, owned by the FAA, is supported through a contract with Electronic Data Systems Corp. A spokesman for the technology services provider referred all questions to the FAA. Hewlett-Packard Co., in a deal announced earlier this month, is acquiring Plano, Texas-based EDS.

While flight safety was never compromised, Ms. Brown acknowledged it was fortuitous the system failed so late at night, when there is much less air traffic to manage. She added that traffic also is expected to be down this Memorial Day weekend when many Americans opt to drive instead of fly.