Flight Delays Laid to Computer Malfunctioning

Times Staff Writer

Flights from airports throughout Southern California were delayed during most of the day on Friday because of an early morning computer failure at the Los Angeles Air Route Traffic Control Center at Palmdale, a federal official said Saturday.

The aging computer, which provides information about the flight plans of aircraft within the center’s jurisdiction, failed at 7:36 a.m. Friday for about 30 minutes, according to Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Russ Park.

The outage forced air traffic controllers to ground flights for 15 minutes during the morning rush period at airports in the Los Angeles area, San Diego, Fresno, Santa Barbara and Palm Springs, he said.

The computer, known as the 9020, has been the source of numerous controllers’ complaints, and is expected to be replaced later this year. The 9020 failed 12 times during the last six months of 1986, with an average failure time of about four minutes.


The outage, combined with heavy air traffic and rainy weather, caused delays at the airports through mid-afternoon, even though a backup system was activated 14 minutes after the outage and the computer was repaired within half an hour, Park said.

Airport and airline spokesmen said Saturday that most of the delays were minor, describing the situation as more of an irritation than a significant disruption in service.

“We didn’t experience any delays over 30 minutes,” said United Airlines spokesman Rob Doughty. “A delay of 30 minutes on many flights you can make up in the air.”

Park said the outage posed no safety hazard to passengers since the air traffic controllers automatically shifted to the backup system. Controllers lost flight plan information--including such things as the flight number, altitude and airline of each flight--during the 14-minute transition, but they were able to continue tracking the planes on radar screens, he said.


“There was no loss of radar sight,” Park said. “The aircraft stays on the controller’s screen.”

The Palmdale center controls aircraft over a 180,000-square-mile area of Southern California, southern Utah, southern Nevada and western Arizona. Palmdale controllers give flight instructions to pilots while they are flying above 10,000 feet between areas that are covered by controllers at individual airports, Park said.