Airlines are considering a boycott of certain airports on 31 December 1999, and some will not fly at all if they have not fully addressed the millennium date change bug.
Air transport bodies are stepping up their plans of action as concerns grow about travel safety around the millennium, as sensitive computer systems fail to cope with the date change.
?Some airlines are convinced they won?t be ready in time,? admitted Peter Qauintmere, technical director of the International Federation of Airline Pilots (IFAP). ?They will not fly for three or four days to make sure that other airlines' planes don?t fall out of the sky because the computers can?t cope.?
The IFAP is holding meetings to discuss the problem and actions to take to ensure its members' safety. Quaintmere would not rule out the possibility that key airports could be boycotted if there were not sufficient guarantees of safety from the airlines, the industry and the providers of technical equipment.
Sources report that one consultancy has drawn up a 'blacklist' of airports that it believes will be best avoided at the end of 1999.
?If they are unable to convince us we must advise our members," said Quaintmere. "As pilots we have no control over the equipment - inside the aircraft or on the ground. We are just the manipulators," he said.
A British Airways spokesperson said: ?We take the issue very seriously and now consider it a business issue, not a computer issue. It is early days yet and we are reliant on air traffic control systems and the airports but we will make sure we are operational.?
But a Virgin Atlantic representative, Paul Moore, was more circumspect. ?The short answer to 'will we fly at midnight on 31 December 1999?' is we don?t know yet - but we don?t have to decide until the early part of 1999. Our view is that it is better to keep our options open but it is one of our two or three key objectives to ensure that we and our partners are compliant and prepared for Year 2000.?
On the question of the boycott of airports, Moore said: ?We have 12 destinations in the major economies of the world, eight of which are in the US. I imagine there are more difficulties in third world countries.?
However, there are problems in technologically advanced countries too. IBM admitted last week that a series of 40 crucial air traffic computers controlling flights to and across the US will not be guaranteed to work beyond December 1999.
An IBM spokesperson told 'The Daily Telegraph' that 40 of its model 3083 mainframe computers, used at 20 Air Route Traffic Control Centres - which handle long distance traffic to, from and across America - cannot be debugged before 2000.
?There simply isn?t enough time,? he said. ?They are very old machines, last sold in 1987. We do not know exactly what could go wrong, just that they will not work correctly.?
The UK body responsible for air traffic control was confident about its own systems but stressed the massive task ahead of the airlines. A spokesperson said that most air traffic systems are ?reactive to short timescales with tomorrow?s flights being programmed today. From an operational point of view it will be done by the end of the summer.?
But he added: "The onus is on the airlines to do the work and make suitable checks.?
Quaintmere highlighted the massive scale of this task. ?One airline, as part of its Year 2000 project is having to work on 1,250 application projects in three distinct environments - real time, offline and client/server. It is dealing with 10,000 infrastructure components, 30 different programming languages and over 200 million lines of code. All this can?t be solved in one place - it has to be looked at globally.?
He continued: ?It is like taking a book out of a library and changing all the verbs to the past tense, some of which are in different languages and some of which are redundant.?
Robin Guenier, head of UK millennium lobby group Task Force 2000, said: ?If the airlines are not flying and the telecomms fail some areas of the world will be inaccessible. Big chunks of the globe will become black holes of communication. We will be back in the middle ages.?
Quaintemere reports one air traffic control system which believed the problem was exaggerated. ?They decided to wind all the clocks forward on their computers. Everything went blank so they realised it was not a problem which would just go away.?
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