Year 2000 Computing Crisis:

Status of Airports' Efforts to Deal with Date Change Problem

RCED/AIMD-99-57: Published: Jan 29, 1999. Publicly Released: Mar 1, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the status of airports' efforts to prepare for the year 2000, focusing on: (1) the status of airports' efforts to help ensure that their computers and electronic equipment will function properly on and after January 1, 2000; (2) how the safety, the security, and the efficiency of the National Airspace System will be affected if airports' year 2000 preparations are not completed in time; and (3) the factors that will affect the progress of airports' preparations for the year 2000.

GAO noted that: (1) the nation's airports have been making progress in preparing for the year 2000; (2) however, there is substantial variation in the progress they have achieved and the approaches they have been taking; (3) among the airports responding to GAO's survey, about one-third reported that they would meet the June 30, 1999 date the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recommended to complete preparations for addressing the year 2000 date change; another one-third did not report that they would meet this date but had begun contingency planning to help ensure continued operations if equipment malfunctions; and a final one-third did not meet either of these criteria; (4) the final third are mostly small airports, but they include 9 of the nation's 50 largest airports; (5) officials at airports and FAA agreed that adequate safeguards are in place to ensure the safety and the security of the National Airspace System before and after the year 2000 date change; (6) however, airports that do not meet FAA's June 1999 recommended preparation date are at increased risk of experiencing some equipment malfunctions; (7) if manual procedures must be substituted for operations normally controlled by automated equipment, an airport's efficiency--its ability to handle its normal number of scheduled flights per day--would decrease and thus cause flight delays; (8) because of the interdependence among airline flights and airport facilities, delays at one airport could cause delays at other airports and eventually affect the efficiency of the National Airspace System; (9) the severity of these delays would depend to a large extent on the size of the airports and which equipment malfunctions; (10) FAA, airport, and other aviation industry officials cited several factors that have affected the timeliness of year 2000 preparations, including an airport's use of contractors, the assistance provided by aviation industry associations, and the activities undertaken by Congress and by FAA; (11) contractors have helped some airports prepare for the year 2000 by providing them with the trained personnel they lack; and (12) aviation industry associations have helped increase airports' awareness of the implications of the year 2000 through discussions at seminars and workshops and by identifying airport equipment that might be vulnerable to problems caused by the date change.