U.S. and Canadian airlines have finished 95 percent of their Year 2000 computer repairs, and the nation's airports should complete their fixes by late summer, a special aviation task force told the White House yesterday.
"We will be ready for the new millennium," said Carol B. Hallett, president of the Air Transport Association, which represents the large commercial passenger and cargo airlines.
White House officials consider the transportation, electric power, telecommunications and banking industries as crucial to ensuring that the nation's infrastructure holds up when the calendar turns to Jan. 1, 2000. Yesterday's industry report was one of several announced this year to provide reassurances to the public.
John A. Koskinen, special adviser to President Clinton on Year 2000 computer issues, called the airline progress report "an important occasion" and commended Hallett's pledge that the industry would continue tests aimed at finding any undetected problems.
As for Year 2000 readiness overseas, Koskinen said the State Department would begin issuing traveler advisories in late summer or early fall if any nations or individual airports seem vulnerable to Year 2000 computer problems. The International Civil Aviation Organization and U.S. embassies are collecting readiness information from airlines and foreign governments, Koskinen and Hallett said.
Hallett stressed that "we will not fly anywhere it is not safe." Koskinen said that "the issue in flying internationally is not safety; it really is a question of congestion and timing" of flights and, in the event of computer breakdowns, the prospect that some will have to be canceled.
The Year 2000 problem, known as Y2K, stems from the use of two-digit date fields in many computers, raising the possibility that software and embedded systems will interpret "00" as 1900, not as 2000, causing them to malfunction or shut down.
With six months left before the start of the new year, Congress yesterday approved legislation that would limit lawsuits against businesses in the event of Y2K breakdowns. The House approved the measure on a 404 to 24 vote; the Senate voted 81 to 18 and will send the bill to Clinton for his signature.
The votes came two days after congressional and White House negotiators struck a controversial deal on the bill's major provisions. The legislation would give companies as long as 90 days to fix any problems before a lawsuit could be brought and create a formula for assessing blame.
Yesterday also marked the start of new fiscal years for 46 states, a time when their computer systems might encounter 2000 dates in their calculations. But officials at two organizations tracking Y2K issues said their calls to several states did not reveal any problems.
"Zip," said Thom Rubel, an official at the National Governors' Association.