22 June 2000

7 year wait for new air traffic system

The air traffic control system that failed last weekend causing air travel chaos is not due to be replaced for another seven years, it was reported today.

The flight data processing system (FDPS) dates back to the 1970s and runs on out-of-production hardware, said the Computer Weekly publication.

The system will play "a pivotal role" in the much-delayed new air traffic control centre at Swanwick in Hampshire which will finally open in spring 2002, it added.

The publication said that the failure which led to hundreds of flight cancellations and delays is believed to involve a latent bug in the original software that dates back more than 20 years.

The FDPS failure last Saturday was at the main air traffic control centre at West Drayton in west London.

Computer Weekly said today that when Swanwick opens, its air traffic controllers will still receive their flight data information from the FDPS at West Drayton which will also be used to feed flight information to Scotland's new control centre.

Computer Weekly said today: "In the House of Commons this week, Transport Minister Nick Raynsford described the FDPS as a 'relatively modern computer system'.

"The minister may have been unaware that the FDPS runs on an IBM mainframe computer, of which production was ceased in 1987, and that the software is based on the 'Jovial' programming language from the 1970s."