FAA Statement on Automation Problems at Washington Center

Monday, August 17, 2015

FAA Statement:

The FAA identified a recent software upgrade at the Leesburg, VA, high-altitude radar facility as the source of Saturday’s automation problems. The agency is working closely with its contractor, Lockheed Martin Corp., to prevent future occurrences.   

Despite the outage, air traffic controllers safely handled 70 to 88 percent of Saturday’s scheduled arrivals and departures at the region’s three major airports by using backup systems and procedures.  The availability rate of the En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) system has been higher than 99.99 percent since it was completed nationwide earlier this year.

A new function in the latest ERAM software upgrade provided individual controllers with the ability to set up a customized window of frequently referenced data. This information was supposed to be completely removed from the system as controllers deleted it.

However, as controllers adjusted their unique settings, those changes remained in memory until the storage limit was filled. This consumed processing power needed for the successful operation of the overall system.

By temporarily suspending the use of this function, we have eliminated the possibility of this particular issue from occurring again. The FAA is working with Lockheed on a permanent solution and the company is closely examining why the issue was not identified during testing.

*The FAA reduced the arrival and departure rates in the region from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. for safety reasons. That resulted in about 70 percent of the average normal Saturday traffic at BWI, 72 percent at DCA, and 88 percent at IAD. This information was originally relayed on Sunday, August 16, 2015.