FAA plans weather server upgrades

FAA plans weather server upgrades

October failures in other systems triggered severe flight delays in the West

By Tony Lee Orr

GCN Staff

The Federal Aviation Administration has signed contracts to upgrade servers that host its weather tracking applications.

The server upgrades come on the heels of recent system failures at West Coast airports that led to severe flight delays. Software that assigns tracking codes to departing flights failed to reload late last month after routine maintenance, FAA officials said.

The breakdown at an FAA center in Fremont, Calif., affected airports in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Sacramento and Reno, Nev.

The problems wreaked havoc for almost six hours. FAA succeeded in restoring the program on the third attempt.

The problem mainly affected domestic flights. The software failure followed the crash of an air traffic radar system in Los Angeles a week earlier. The radar system failure had caused delays across a large area of the West.

Replace aging computers

For the server upgrade, FAA will buy SGI servers to host the Terminal Doppler Weather Radar systems at major airports across the country. FAA spent $3 million on 104 SGI Origin 200 servers as part of a planned upgrade. Ninety of the servers will go to 45 airports as main and backup systems, four will be used for training and 10 will go to logistics centers as spares. The SGI servers will replace aging Harris Corp. computers.

Air traffic controllers use Doppler radar to detect hazardous wind shear in and near airports. Approximately 33 percent of all fatal aviation accidents are weather-related, and of those, almost 40 percent occur near the airport, FAA officials said.

The weather tracking system uses two types of displays: an alphanumeric display that contains only wind shear warnings and a color geographic display that shows other weather information.

The radar system scans at five-minute intervals and provides a 360-degree monitoring sweep. The system also provides a one-minute update on wind shear information.

Meanwhile, FAA has also hired Gallium Software Inc. of Atlantic City, N.J., to enhance the Advanced Air Traffic Controller Research Simulator that the agency uses to study how controllers interact with computers.

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