FAA: Aged mainframes are good to go for 2000

The old IBM Corp. mainframes that the Federal Aviation Administration uses to host
directional and radar applications for the nation’s air traffic control systems are
ready for the year 2000, an FAA official said last week.


We looked at over 1 million lines of microcode in the hosts and found that it will
transition to the millennium in a routine fashion,” FAA spokesman Paul Takemoto said.


FAA has 225 mission-critical systems whose operation directly affects the nation’s
air space, Takemoto said.


Of those mission-critical systems, 128 are ready for 2000, 23 will be replaced or
retired, and the remainder are under repair, he said.


We got off to a late start. Since then we’ve made tremendous progress,”
Takemoto said.


Now, the spokesman said, the administration is making strides and looks to be on track.


FAA will hit its Sept. 30 deadline for completing all its code rework, he said.


FAA technicians working with retired IBM programmers have been testing code for the
23-year-old mainframe systems for the past few months and spent two weeks reviewing the
results, Takemoto said.


The code, which runs on IBM 3038 mainframes at FAA’s Atlantic City, N.J.,
technical center, translates radar and directional data for FAA’s 20 en route centers
nationwide. 


The data is routed from the en route centers to 172 Terminal Radar Approach Control
systems, which controllers use to direct air traffic within a 60-mile radius of airports,
Takemoto said.


FAA, on the advice of IBM technicians who said they believed the systems wouldn’t
be year 2000-ready, had decided to scrap the machines and replace them. The systems,
however, were configured in such a way that they aren’t scheduled to fail until 2007,
Takemoto said.


The machines used 1975 as Year 1, because that is the year IBM introduced them,
Takemoto said. The microcode doesn’t consider the last two digits when processing
dates. It instead stores the year as a two-digit number between one and 32 assuming the
year 1975 as Year 1.


The number 32 designates the end of the machine’s designated life span, Takemoto
said.


The date code that commands cooling pumps in the mainframes particularly concerned the
administration’s technicians, Takemoto said.


If the computers don’t switch from one cooling pump to another, they overheat and
fail, he said. If that were to happen, the controllers’ radar screens might go
down, Takemoto said.


Even though the systems are ready, FAA still plans to replace the IBMs by 2000, he
said. 

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