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Sat, Jun 09, 2007

Computer Snafu Snags Flights Along East Coast

Effects Ripple Throughout Country

By Friday evening, it was stormy weather causing delays to flights along the northeastern coast of the United States... but earlier in the day, airports from New York to Boston were socked in by a glitch in the air traffic control network computer system.

"Everyone's kind of edgy," passenger Pat Maio told Newsday, as he waited over four hours for his flight to Atlanta to depart from John F. Kennedy International. "The explanations are real vague. Immediately you think the worst."

The "worst," on the minds of many harried travelers, was due to last week's foiling of an alleged terrorist plot to plant explosives along a fuel feeder line to JFK. But Friday's snafu at JFK had nothing to due with terrorism, officials said, and everything to do with antiquated technology.

What caused the problem? According to the FAA, a cascading systems failure hit its computer system, dumping hundreds of flight plans that had been entered into the network. Controllers found themselves having to reenter that information manually throughout the day.

The glitch, which hit the northeast region but affected flights throughout the country, was actually repaired by late Friday morning... but its effects lingered throughout Friday afternoon and evening... just in time to throw a wrench into what is traditionally an extremely busy time for air travel.

Other East Coast airports didn't fare much better than JFK. In fact, the situation at LaGuardia was reportedly worse, with flights arriving four hours later than average. Departing flights were delayed by about three hours. FAA spokesman Jim Peters said ATC placed a ground stop on all inbound flights, due to controller concerns about too many planes in the skies.

New York Senator Charles Schumer said Friday's problems are a sign the FAA badly needs to invest in improvements to air traffic control technology.

"When it comes to these computer systems, they're way behind schedule," he said. "The technology is there to make them much better."

FMI: www.faa.gov, Check On Flight Delays

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