DOT Inspector General Sites Causes For FAA Outage In 2009


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DOT Inspector General Sites Causes For FAA Outage In 2009

By Eddy Metcalf

June 23, 2010 - Department of Transportation (DOT) issued their review of an FAA Telecommunications Infrastructure (FTI) outage that occurred on November 19, 2009, delaying thousands of travelers and grounding hundreds of flights nationwide. The review was requested by the Chairmen of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and Subcommittee on Aviation.

The Chairmen requested that DOT identify the cause (s) of the Telecommunications Infrastructure outage, review the FAA?s corrective action plan to prevent future critical outages, examine the FAA?s ability to oversee Telecommunications Infrastructure and the contractor, and identify oversight vulnerabilities or best practices of other critical systems in the National Airspace System owned or operated by the private sector.


DOT learned that network configuration and procedural errors by the contractor caused (Harris Corporation) the Telecommunications Infrastructure outage. A Harris technician incorrectly configured an Telecommunications Infrastructure router (which directs air traffic data, such as flight plans, through the network) at Los Angeles Center. The error caused the Telecommunications Infrastructure network to send air traffic data on the wrong routes, which blocked approximately 75 percent of the routes across the Telecommunications Infrastructure fiber optic network.

Service restoration was delayed for 5 hours because an automatic tool that alerts technicians to network failures and their locations did not work as intended. Therefore, Harris technicians could not readily identify the source of the problem, which could have minimized the impact of the error on the NAS.

FAA?s oversight of the Telecommunications Infrastructure contractor could have been more effective. The FAA was unaware that Harris officials had configured the network in error and made other procedural errors. In 2008, DOT recommended that the FAA develop improved controls over the contractor?s Telecommunications Infrastructure equipment configuration and take steps to prevent unscheduled outages and restore them on time to improve service reliability.

While FAA agreed to take action, DOT found it still has problems ensuring Telecommunications Infrastructure services were restored within contractual requirements. To its credit, the FAA plans to address this and other Telecommunications Infrastructure issues, in response to the findings of an independent review panel convened to investigate the November outage.

While FAA and the contractor have taken corrective actions to prevent a similar critical outage, they acknowledge that the risk of future outages remains as new services are added to Telecommunications Infrastructure?s fiber optic network. In addition, DOT learned that FAA?s oversight of the contractor could have been more effective and proactive.  Moreover, the FAA?s internal reports show that FAA and the contractor still need to fully identify Telecommunications Infrastructure vulnerabilities to ensure network reliability.

The FAA is increasingly shifting more acquisitions and services to the private sector to reduce costs, and DOT identified a number of best practices the FAA should consider for Telecommunications Infrastructure and other privately owned and operated systems. The FAA has accepted the recent findings and recommendations of an independent review panel convened by the FAA Administrator to investigate the November 2009 outage, and another review of Telecommunications Infrastructure reliability is pending as a result DOT will not make any recommendations at this time.


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