When thinking about where in the country the most powerful computer systems might be, a few places naturally come to mind -- universities and research centers. It would be reasonable to believe that some serious processing power and new technology would be in use with the FAA considering it handles flight plans and more for aircraft flying constantly all over the country.
Earlier this week, the FAA servers in Atlanta responsible for handling all flight plans across the country crashed leaving massive flight delays at several major airports including Atlanta, Boston, Washington D.C., and Chicago.
Many would be surprised to hear that as important a task as these computers handled, the technology in use was from the 1970's. One obvious question after the servers went down from many was -- where are the backup systems? The FAA says that it in fact has a backup system, but in the wake of the main system crash, airlines simply kept resubmitting flight plans and eventually crashed the backup server. The backup server lacked the memory to handle the massive amount of resubmitted flight plans.
The main server crash was found to have been caused by simple human error according to CNET News. The failure was caused by an IPX9000 packet switch, which someone had loaded with the wrong configuration data.
FAA spokeswoman Diane Spitaliere said, "The big difference is that (the new system) has a lot more memory, so what happened yesterday could never happen again." Another FAA spokeswoman, Laura Brown, said that it is considering adding a third backup system in its New Jersey training and research facility.
The FAA notes that employees ended up having to call the airlines and tell them to stop hitting resubmit on the flight plans. The FAA says that it will be upgrading the system completely by early next year.