Air-Traffic-Control Center Is Awaiting New Equipment

Article excerpt

The Leesburg air-traffic-control center that experienced a computer failure resulting in massive flight delays yesterday is awaiting new equipment later this spring.

The Washington Air Traffic Control Center tracks all aircraft moving through hundreds of square miles of air space along the East Coast from Myrtle Beach, S.C., to just south of New York City.

The new equipment is part of a $13 billion government effort to upgrade the nation's entire air-traffic-control system, making improvements experts say are essential as air traffic gets increasingly crowded.

The equipment, designed by Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, will replace air-traffic-control technology that has been in use since the 1950s. Ironically, the main computer system that failed, grounding thousands of passengers for more than 90 minutes, was first put into use in March.

"The system we were using today was supposed to be 99.9 percent reliable. Obviously that's not the case," said Tim Hardison, president of the National Air Traffic Control Association, Local Washington Center.

The new equipment is designed to help the system run more smoothly. But officials at the Washington Air Traffic Control Center said that as long as there are people using computers, there will be occasional glitches.

On an average, there are as many as 25 computer failures across the nation's air-traffic-control system, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Earlier this week, computer problems at an air-traffic-control center near Boston delayed about 125 flights at airports in the New York City area and elsewhere on the East Coast. The FAA said the computer problems at the air-traffic-control site in Nashua, N.H., weren't year-2000-related.

Still, crashes of the magnitude experienced yesterday, which grounded hundreds of planes along the East Coast for nearly two hours, are rare, Mr. …