None of the nation's 565 airports regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration have reported Year 2000 computer problems that would pose safety or security risks on Jan. 1, according to a Transportation Department announcement prepared for today.
The FAA has visited or interviewed officials at each of the airports to determine if they have adequate Y2K plans for computerized operations, such as airfield lighting, radio communications, fire dispatch and locks on doors to restricted areas.
FAA officials did not verify if Y2K fixes actually had been made but looked at whether the airports' plans were appropriate for their operations. About half the airports, for example, do not rely on computerized systems to control access to airliner ramps and other sensitive parts of airports.
On Wednesday, the FAA will publish a rule requiring airports to conduct a "readiness check" of their computer systems shortly after beginning operations in the new year, Louise Maillet, the FAA's acting associate administrator for airports, said yesterday. For busy airports, the Y2K doublecheck will likely come in the early hours of Jan. 1, shortly after computers should be interpreting "00" as the year 2000.
Federal officials and computer specialists fear that some governmental, commercial and private computers, as well as some embedded computer chips, may interpret "00" as 1900 instead, and shut down or otherwise malfunction.
The Transportation Department plans to post information on airport readiness today at its Web site (www.fly2k.dot.gov). On or about Nov. 16, the FAA also plans to post Y2K information for more than 3,000 U.S. air carriers offering passenger service.
Last month, about 1,300 carriers had not responded to FAA requests for Y2K information, prompting Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), who was concerned about the lack of disclosure, to publish their names in the Congressional Record. He also attached a provision to a pending FAA authorization bill that would give the government the authority to withdraw aviation licenses if carriers did not respond to Y2K queries.
The number of non-responsive carriers has since dropped by more than half, to 650. The carriers are mostly charter or on-demand services providing transportation to about 2 percent of the flying public, the FAA said.
In addition to its Web site postings on U.S. airports and airlines, the FAA also plans to provide updates on the year 2000 status of foreign travel destinations. Within weeks, data on 135 nations will be available, covering about 99 percent of global passenger boardings, said Mary Powers-King, the FAA's Y2K program office director.
Postal Service Ready to Carry Heavy Load
The Y2K bug could give a boost to the U.S. Postal Service. Norman E. Lorentz, the service's chief technology officer, said at a House hearing last week that he expects more people to mail letters and documents as the calendar moves from 1999 to 2000 because of worries that e-mail might not be reliable.
Lorentz said he also hopes the Postal Service can serve as an "early warning beacon" for any Y2K problems, since it has letter carriers on almost every street in America. From Dec. 30 through Jan. 4, the Postal Service plans to operate a National Operations Center to gather and coordinate Y2K information for executives at postal headquarters.
Agencies Planning 'Day One' Strategies
The Postal Service is not alone in drafting "Day One" strategies for dealing with unexpected Y2K glitches. The Pentagon, for example, has decided the "date transition period" runs from Sept. 1, 1999, to March 31, 2000, a time frame that takes in any leap year problems that might cause computers to stumble.
Marvin J. Langston, the Pentagon's top Y2K official, expects the Defense Department will have an extra 5 to 10 percent of personnel on duty over the new year. Russian military personnel also are scheduled to arrive Dec. 22 in Colorado Springs to help staff a center aimed at making sure early-warning systems do not go haywire and set off alarms that nuclear missiles are being launched by either side.
But the General Accounting Office's Y2K specialist, Joel C. Willemssen, said the government faces considerable work in developing plans that will allow agencies to stay in business and cope with emergencies in the event of computer breakdowns.
Only nine of 23 large agencies have addressed all the "Day One" planning elements--such as staff on duty, contractor availability and a schedule of activities--identified as necessary by the Office of Management and Budget, Willemssen said.
Fifteen agencies have created a Y2K checklist for employees to follow and 17 have figured out what staff should be on duty during the New Year's weekend, he said.
Without advance planning, Willemssen testified at a joint hearing of two House subcommittees, agencies run the risk of ad hoc decisions or untrained, chaotic responses if confronted with a Y2K computer failure.
OMB official John T. Spotila said the government would have "core staff" on duty where needed during the Y2K weekend. He also acknowledged, "We are all learning as we go."