- The Washington Times - Friday, November 20, 2009

ATLANTA (AP) | 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 four hours, was fixed about 9 a.m., but it was not clear how long flights would be affected.

It started when a single circuit board in a piece of networking equipment at a computer center in Salt Lake City failed about 5 a.m., the FAA said.

That failure prevented air traffic control computers in different parts of the country from talking to each other. Air traffic controllers were forced to type in complicated flight plans themselves because the plans could not be transferred automatically from computers in one region of the country to computers in another, slowing down the whole system.

Two large computer centers in Salt Lake City and near Atlanta were affected, as well as 21 regional radar centers across the country.

Delays were particularly bad at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s busiest. The glitch also exacerbated delays caused by bad weather in the Northeast, with airports in the Chicago, Washington and New York metropolitan areas reporting problems.

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

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said that the country’s aviation system is “in shambles” and that the FAA needs more resources to prevent such problems from continuing.

“If we don’t deliver the resources, manpower and technology the FAA … 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,” he said.

Despite the problems, the public areas of Atlanta’s airport seemed no busier than usual. Travelers ate breakfast and lounged in the atrium, where sisters Sharon Walker and Sheila James waited to take their elderly mother, Rosa Washington, to see their other sister in St. Louis. The trio’s 9:30 a.m. flight was delayed until 4 p.m. because of the glitch.

“We were going to be there for a four-day weekend, but now it’s getting cut short,” Miss James said.

In the public areas of Newark Liberty International Airport, where delays are routine, Thursday seemed like a normal day, though several people paced around the terminal trying to rearrange their plans.

At Washington Dulles International Airport, AirTran canceled Flight 63 to Atlanta and urged passengers to head to nearby Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport to catch another flight. Hilda Ruffin of Manassas, a senior citizen who uses a wheelchair, said she lobbied the airline for a free shuttle pass to get to Reagan.

“I really fought for it … I don’t have the money to pay for a cab,” said Ms. Ruffin, who was on her way to San Antonio.

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

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