8:42 PM

Everything IS Broken.

The title of this post is also the title of a 1989 Bob Dylan song that sums up what I am feeling this week about our country. Hang with me here, as always I will spin this around in the direction of aviation...

As Dylan sang...

Broken cutters, broken saws,
Broken buckles, broken laws,
Broken bodies, broken bones,
Broken voices on broken phones.
Take a deep breath, feel like you're chokin',
Everything is broken.
I was really peeved Sunday morning when I logged into cyberspace and found this:
LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- Weary international passengers were stuck at Los Angeles International Airport for several hours, after a computer failure prevented customs officials from screening arrivals. More than 20,000 international passengers, both Americans and foreigners, sat in four airport terminals and in 60 planes starting about 2 p.m. on Saturday.
Another day in America, another airport with computer problems. It's becoming so routine to read of major airports having one "glitch" or another, impacting ATC, security, or in this case, customs. Add that to a seemingly endless quagmire in Iraq, a pathetic Federal response to Katrina, a deplorable health care system, the bottom dropping out of the mortgage industry, a real estate market heading to the basement at warp speed and collapsing Interstate bridges, and it is easy to agree with Dylan's lyrics...everything certainly seems broken.

It is far too easy to blame the guy holding the Oval Office hostage, since this downward spiral happened on his watch. But this post is not about King George, it is about crappy computer systems. And since computers are front and center in ATC these days – and will be the heart of any new NextGen system – I have to ask this one question:
Why can't we build bulletproof computer systems?
While admittedly not a systems analyst and certainly not an IT junkie, I know a few things about these dastardly machines that all seem in one way or another connected to what "W" likes to call The Internets. It just slays me that the powers to be can't figure out how to build a system more dependable then a 1948 DeSoto, with firewalls that any brilliant 15-year-old hacker can't break into. Is it too much to ask that someone re-invent email so that 85% of the traffic is not spam? Hey, here's an idea, let's start by physically blocking the actual wires that connect the U.S. mainland to Nigeria.

When it comes to U.S. Customs computers – which are certainly at the very core of our Homeland Security efforts – you'd think at least these machines would be bulletproof. But the debacle at LAX proves even such an important system can go down. Which leads me into the discussion of our ATC computer system...is it bulletproof? Do they have at least as many redundant systems in place as a Cessna 150 has magnetos?
Jump on The Google and do a search for ATC computer failures. Then watch as 982,000 pages are served up describing how the system that keep us pilots from all trading paint can hardly be called infallible.
As we head down the rocky road towards NextGen, regardless of the funding scheme that is used, one thing is crystal clear: They had better get the computer system right. In the ATC world of tomorrow that will be so dependent on these gizmos we call computers, the last thing we need is the Katrinization of that system. Maybe what FAA needs to do is hire a herd of 15-year-olds and have THEM build the system.

Or they could just daisy-chain a bunch of Macbooks together and teach them to keep airplanes separated. At least that way they'd have cool tunes to listen to and great video to watch while the system hums along, up and running.

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