Flights Delayed by Communications Problems

Published: August 26, 2008

Computer problems at a Federal Aviation Administration center outside Atlanta caused substantial delays Tuesday at some major airports across the country, including those in Boston, Atlanta and Chicago.

The trouble, which developed about 1:25 p.m., Eastern time, was a failure of a processing system that handles flight plans filed by airlines before their aircraft take off. The plans include information like departure and arrival points, the type of aircraft, the route, the name of the pilot and the number of people on board.

As a result of the failure, the agency shifted the processing to a backup system in Salt Lake City, which generally shares the processing load with the Atlanta center, and airlines were told that some flight plans would have to be refiled before planes could leave the ground.

The problem was “pretty much resolved” by early evening, said an F.A.A. spokeswoman, Diane Spitaliere. Though the Atlanta center remained out of service Tuesday night, Ms. Spitaliere said, the Salt Lake City facility was able to handle the full load.

An agency spokesman, Paul Takemoto, emphasized that passengers’ safety had not been affected, since the trouble did not compromise the agency’s ability to track flights in the air.

The F.A.A. said it could not estimate how many flights had been involved, but Ms. Spitaliere said they most likely included some arriving from and departing for overseas locations.

The most serious delays took place at Logan International Airport in Boston, Hartsfield in Atlanta, and O’Hare and Midway in Chicago.

For several hours during the afternoon, officials placed holds on arriving traffic at both Logan and Hartsfield. Planes bound for both were told to wait at their departure points, according to an F.A.A. Web site that tracks airport delays.

The holds were later lifted, but flights into both airports remained delayed into Tuesday evening.

In Chicago, flights from Midway were delayed as much as 1 hour 45 minutes, the agency’s Web site said. Delays at O’Hare averaged about 30 minutes.

Baltimore-Washington International Airport and Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina also experienced delays of an hour or more during the afternoon, the F.A.A. said.

There were delays as well at airports in the New York area, though these were largely due to weather and wind conditions. Flights to Newark Liberty International Airport were halted briefly because of turbulence, while flights to La Guardia Airport were delayed by an average of 41 minutes and those to Kennedy International Airport by an average of 65 minutes.

The trouble coincided with the winding down of the busy summer travel season. Generally, about 5,000 aircraft are in the skies over the United States at any given time on an average summer weekday.

David Stout contributed reporting.



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