FAA: Failed Software Update Led to DC Airline Chaos

A radar software upgrade which interrupted key air traffic control systems was the cause of major travel disruption from 14-16 September in the Washington DC area, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has claimed.

The upgrade to the En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) system affected the Leesburg, Virginia, high-altitude radar facility, the FAA said in a statement earlier this week.

It explained further:

“A new function in the latest ERAM software upgrade provided individual controllers with the ability to set up a customized window of frequently referenced data. This information was supposed to be completely removed from the system as controllers deleted it.

However, as controllers adjusted their unique settings, those changes remained in memory until the storage limit was filled. This consumed processing power needed for the successful operation of the overall system.”

The FAA said it has temporarily suspended the use of this function to prevent the problem occurring again, but claimed the issue has not yet been fixed permanently.

That will require help from contractor Lockheed Martin, it said.

The FAA is also working with the defense giant to discover why the issue wasn’t flagged in testing.

Flight Aware claimed there were more than 3,400 delays and 640 cancellations involving flights originating in or flying to the US last Saturday, CNN said.

ERAM has had uptime of 99.99% since launching earlier this year.

However, it’s an inauspicious start for the system, which only replaced the 40-year-old En Route Host computer and back-up system at 20 FAA Air Route Traffic Control Centers nationwide in March.

In theory, ERAM should increase capacity and improve efficiency – with the ability to track 1,900 aircraft at a time instead of the previous 1,100.

It can also process data from 64 radars versus the previous 24, enabling it to track aircraft beyond facility boundaries, the FAA explained.

The government agency did its best to put a positive spin on the incident, maintaining that 70-88% of scheduled arrivals and departures in the Washington were safely handled “using back-up systems and procedures.”

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