30 December 1998

Right of Reply - Howard Davies

The secretary general of the British Air Transport Association responds to reports that airline safety will be affected by the millennium bug

There is a lot of conjecture concerning the impact of the coming of the year 2000 on computer systems which support essential services. There can, however, be no doubt that the year 2000 will happen, and airlines must be ready to meet the challenge.

Modern aircraft, and ground support services such as air traffic control systems, reservation and baggage handling systems, are heavily dependent on computer support for their operations. Airlines have been aware that there is a potential for some problems with these systems, and there is a shared responsibility with suppliers to ensure that these are addressed and resolved where necessary. Indeed, some airlines commenced some initial work on this as long as three years ago.

In addition, the worldwide study already being undertaken by the International Air Transport Association, in order to determine readiness of airport infra-structure, is an example of collective international co-operation.

So where does this leave the travelling public? UK airlines working with others, including government departments, are well aware of the possible implications of the "millennium bug" and are working on solutions to resolve difficulties which may arise. Some airlines have already indicated that they will not be flying on the eve, and into the early hours, of the millennium.

The arrival of the year 2000 may give rise to some disruption to normal services, but premature actions - such as the cross-party committee's list of "unsafe" airlines and airports - unnecessarily confuse the issue.

Airlines are committed to the safety of passengers and crew, and the travelling public can be assured that airlines will evaluate all the options before deciding exactly what course of action to take.

At present we are working on the premise that worldwide operations will continue as normal, but the decision as to whether to continue to operate, or indeed restrict, operations to certain destinations will be taken at the appropriate time as further evidence is gained and the picture becomes clearer.

Ultimately, individual airlines, taking into account all the factors at play, will make their own decision as to what they will do to ensure the safety of passengers in the light of the millennium bug.

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