Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Communications Problems at the FAA


By Kelly Indrieri
Scary to think that the FAA does not have a quality backup system—but it looks like this might be the case. Yes, the FAA announced that, and I quote, "A failure in the agency’s flight plan processing system, called NADIN, took place around 1:25 p.m. Eastern Time today."

NADIN handles the flight plans filed by airlines before the aircraft take off. The plans contain information like the departure and arrival points, the type of aircraft, the route, the name of the pilot and the number of people on board, etc.

When the FAA went to switch to their backup system, which apparently was not running in real time, many of the flight plans had to be refiled and passengers were left waiting.

In a day and age when small mom and pop grocery chains are running zero downtime disaster recovery and backup systems and the FAA is not, one has to ask—should we be worried? I'd love to hear your thoughts...

4 comments:

Anthony K. said...

I think we all have the notion that the entire airline industry and its associated governmental agencies are as high tech as the planes we fly in. However, I remember seeing a tv show just a couple years ago about a control tower at a major East Coast airport. First off, the computer monitors were the ancient circular tube jobs right out of Dr. Strangelove. Secondly, when a new controller took over handling a flight, he (I didn't see any women around) took a PRINTOUT that contained the flight information from a little dot matrix printer. I hope that this system has been upgraded by now—I have better equipment rusting in my cellar.

Erica said...

Raise your hand if you're surprised. (Note, my hand is NOT raised.) With the problems in the airline industry and the general economy in the last year, I'm not particularly surprised that a)technology isn't high on the list of investments for government agencies, or b) that the system went down.

Like Anthony K. said - these control towers still look like they did "back in the day". They're still in greenscreen/dot matrix mode while the rest of the world has moved on. Cut to a scene from the tower in movie "Airplane", and you get the gist of what's behind the scenes at your local airport...

Tangenetial said...

If the FAA is not running in real time, their ‘system’ may as well be a guy with a clipboard. If there is one industry in dire need of a technology overhaul, its the airline industry. The latest FAA fiasco brings to light the importance of having the right information when you need it and putting a system together that prevents these sorts of events from happening in the first place. This could include having access to continuous, real-time information, or putting in place software and systems that were built from the ground up with quality and safety in mind. Although sitting in the airport waiting on a delayed or cancelled flight is beyond frustrating, I’m terrified to think of what kind of consequences the lack of real time information could have 35,000 feet in the air.

The FAA should get their act together...before Anthony K gets into his attic and takes care of it himself:-)

Anthony K said...

Speaking of consequences, I saw another show (man, it sounds like I watch a lot of tv, I don't, really, I swear ;-) about near misses on runways—there are several every year in this country. Why is this still happening with GPS and all the other technology available? Probably because the technology is not being used...