FAA says spy plane confused LAX air-traffic control

FAA says spy plane confused LAX air-traffic control

FAA says spy plane confused LAX air-traffic control

Print
Email
|

by Bart Jansen / USA TODAY

NWCN.com

Posted on May 5, 2014 at 7:02 PM

Updated Monday, May 5 at 7:02 PM

WASHINGTON – The Federal Aviation Administration said Monday that the air-traffic control problem in Los Angeles last week was sparked by a U2 spy plane that essentially confused the agency's aging computers.

The U2 typically flies nearly twice as high as commercial airliners, but its flight path on Wednesday was interpreted as being much lower, according to the FAA. Making sure the erroneous lower flight plan wouldn't jeopardize other planes consumed "a large amount of available memory and interrupted the computer's other flight-processing functions," the agency said.

"The computer system interpreted the flight as a more typical low-altitude operation and began processing it for a route below 10,000 feet," the FAA said.

No planes ever got dangerously close to each other, but the problem canceled 50 flights at Los Angeles International Airport and delayed 455 flights, according to the airport. Impacts of the delays were felt at airports across the country.

The agency corrected the problem within about an hour and added more available memory for the computer to prevent it from happening again.

"The FAA is confident these steps will prevent a recurrence of this specific problem and other potential similar problems going forward," the FAA said.

The problem involved the regional Los Angeles Air Route Traffic Control Center in Palmdale, which tracks planes between airports across Southern California and parts of Nevada, Arizona and Utah.

The computer, one of 20 across the continental USA, is part of a system called En Route Automation Modernization. The system is being upgraded from 1960s-era technology even as it continues to operate, a difficult process that the Government Accountability Office warned was nearly four years behind schedule and $330 million more expensive than estimated.

But FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, in a speech Friday at the International Aviation Club, said 18 of 20 centers across the country are running the new computer system and 15 are using it exclusively.

He said all 20 centers would be running the new ERAM system by next March, which would allow the retirement of the previous computer system.

Huerta said upgrading the computers was crucial to shifting all air-traffic control to a more-precise satellite based system called NextGen, rather than ground-based radar.

"Why is this important? Our legacy automation was limited by its processing speed and many air traffic facilities could only accept a limited number of radar inputs," Huerta said.

"Trying to run NextGen on this legacy platform would be like trying to connect to the internet using a 20-year-old laptop with dial-up."

Print
Email
|