FAA examines communications reliability

/ Source: The Associated Press

The Federal Aviation Administration said Tuesday it is forming a panel to examine the reliability of a telecommunications network that broke down last month, snarling air traffic across the country.

The Nov. 19 episode — which resulted in delays of 819 flights and forced air traffic controllers to manually enter flight information into computers — was unacceptable, FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said in a statement. He said the agency needs to understand what happened so that it can prevent further incidents.

"This panel is going to take a hard look at every part of the (telecommunications) operation," Babbitt said. "We have an extremely reliable system, but we need to have the confidence that problems can be solved quickly and efficiently so our air traffic controllers and aircraft operators have the tools they need and travelers aren't inconvenienced."

FAA said at the time that the incident began with the failure of a single circuit board in a router. A backup circuit board also failed. As a result, misinformation was sent to FAA computer centers near Atlanta and Salt Lake City. It was four hours before the glitch was fixed.

FAA has spent years installing the multibillion telecommunications network, which is critical to plans to modernize the nation's air traffic control system. A government watchdog said last year that the telecommunications network was over budget and plagued by outages. On a single day in 2007 alone, the failure of parts of the network was responsible for 566 flight delays.

Babbitt said the panel will deliver two reports early next year — one on the November outage and any changes that need to be made immediately, and another on the network in connection with emerging technology and future air traffic control-related systems.

Last month's outage didn't affect critical safety systems or public safety, Babbitt said. Air traffic controllers' radar remained in operation and controllers were able to communicate with aircraft, he said.