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Windows crash leaves 800 planes over Southern California out of contact with air-traffic control for 3 hours

From TechWorld, 21 Sep 2004, comes this interesting tidbit [via Dave Farber's IP list]:

The radio system shutdown, which lasted more than three hours, left 800 planes in the air without contact to air traffic control, and led to at least five cases where planes came too close to one another, according to comments by the Federal Aviation Administration reported in the LA Times and The New York Times. Air traffic controllers were reduced to using personal mobile phones to pass on warnings to controllers at other facilities, and watched close calls without being able to alert pilots, according to the LA Times report.

The failure was ultimately down to a combination of human error and a design glitch in the Windows servers brought in over the past three years to replace the radio system's original Unix servers, according to the FAA.

The servers are timed to shut down after 49.7 days of use in order to prevent a data overload, a union official told the LA Times. To avoid this automatic shutdown, technicians are required to restart the system manually every 30 days. An improperly trained employee failed to reset the system, leading it to shut down without warning, the official said. Backup systems failed because of a software failure, according to a report in The New York Times.

Not the least interesting thing about this story is how misleading TechWorld's headline was: Microsoft server crash nearly causes 800-plane pile-up. But the most interesting thing is that the system was actually designed to be manually restarted in order to avoid an automatic shutdown after a prescribed period of time. I find that astounding, even though I find it necessary to re-boot my more reliable Windows systems once a day (the less reliable ones won't stay up as long as one day).

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