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Aging air-traffic computers are on collision course with 2000

The Federal Aviation Administration is way behind schedule in fixing year 2000 problems in computers that include those used to control air traffic, a congressional hearing was be told Wednesday.

Reports by both congressional investigators and the Department of Transportation's Inspector General are highly critical of the FAA's progress so far."Time is running out," said the General Accounting Office in a report released later Wednesday.

"FAA's progress in making its systems ready for the year 2000 has been too slow. At its current pace, it will not make it in time," said GAO, the watchdog arm of Congress.

GAO said the consequences include degraded safety, grounded or delayed flights, increased airline costs and passenger inconvenience.

Because older computers allocate just two digits for the year in recognizing dates, many are expected to read the year 2000 as 1900 and may fail or provide wrong information.

Some of the FAA air-traffic computers, like the ones that help controllers keep track of high-altitude traffic, are 25 years old.

The implications are huge for domestic and international air travel. FAA's authority stretches from the western Atlantic to within 500 miles of Tokyo - 55 percent of the world's air traffic.

FAA Administrator Jane Garvey, just six months into the job, is expected to face tough questions when she appears before a joint hearing of House Government Reform and House Science subcommittees later Wednesday.

Even without the year 2000 problem the FAA was already in a race against time to upgrade its aging air-traffic control system, which is handling an ever-increasing numbers of flights.