July 09, 2020

Computer failure delays flights in Northeast

NASHUA, N.H. — It wasn’t a Y2K problem, but thousands of airline passengers would not have known the difference after a computer problem delayed flights throughout the country Monday night.

A failed computer part at the air traffic control center for the Northeast delayed 125 flights into and out of airports from Washington to Boston, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said Tuesday.

Controllers at the Nashua center had to switch to a backup system at 7:08 p.m. until the part was replaced at 9:40 p.m., and it wasn’t until after midnight that flights were back on schedule, spokesman Jim Peters said.

“There were no problems last night with any flights in the air,” he said.

At Maine’s Portland International Jetport, a few takeoffs were delayed for a short time, but everything was back to normal by 11 p.m., officials said.

Problems in Boston did not cause delays at Bangor International Airport on Monday night or Tuesday morning, according to airport director Bob Ziegelaar.

While the freezing rain made driving difficult early Tuesday, Ziegelaar also said no flights were delayed due to the weather.

The Boston center, which is located in Nashua, still could track flights by radar along with using a backup computer system, and still had radio contact with planes, Peters said. However, planes flying out of or into the Northeast from anywhere in the country were delayed on the ground.

Flights at Logan International Airport in Boston were delayed on the ground for up to 90 minutes and at New York area airports for up to 75 minutes, Peters said. Other major airports affected included those in the Washington area, Philadelphia, Hartford and Providence, he said.

Peters said any airport in the region with commercial flights would have been affected.

The Boston center controls flights over more than 160,000 square miles of air space from the Atlantic Ocean to western New York and from the Canadian border to south of Long Island in New York.

Peters said the problem was not related to the Y2K computer bug.

He said the part, a logical disc drive assembly, was to be replaced next year as part of the modernization effort going on at the nation’s control centers. But it failed between 6:30 a.m. and 7 a.m. Monday and was taken out of service, while the main computer continued to be used. A new part was ordered and was to be installed at 10 p.m., he said.

But for some unknown reason, the bad part came online again during the evening and failed again at 7:08 p.m., Peters said. That’s when the main computer was taken down, and the workload had to be reduced under the backup system, forcing the delays.

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