More bugs hatch in new air traffic control IT systems

Tony Collins

National Air Traffic Services has told its prospective private sector partners that the number of problems in systems at...

Tony Collins

National Air Traffic Services has told its prospective private sector partners that the number of problems in systems at the new £699m air traffic control centre at Swanwick in Hampshire has risen, from about 200 in August to 217.

But the bugs will not hit plans for Nats to gain interim approval for the new air traffic control system from the Safety Regulation Group of the Civil Aviation Authority in December. In effect, this approval will confirm the system's viability.

Although Nats had hoped to eliminate nearly all of the bugs by the time the main system is due for completion on 20 December, this now seems unlikely.

A recent software release, called Build 1.37 contains fewer bugs than some previous releases, but has added to the total number of programme trouble reports (PTRs), many of which are bugs that are regarded as "must fixes". Even so, the total number of bugs has more than halved since May this year, when there were more than 550.

Prospective bidders were briefed on the state of the systems at the new En-Route Centre and other matters by the centre's executive chairman Roy McNulty.

Nats said the intention is to go ahead with technical hand over on 20 December. This is when the responsibility for the systems will pass from IT specialists to operational air traffic control.

The organisation expects technical hand-over to take place with about 50 bugs remaining but said these will be fixed in January and February next year. This is around the time when air traffic controllers are due to begin their training in earnest, as if the system were in live operation.

Nats still faces considerable technical challenges before the system is due to become fully operational on 27 January 2002. Two further releases of software, called Build 1.38 and Build 1.39 may contain fresh bugs when they are installed next year.

Although any major unexpected problems next year could again delay the introduction of the system - it was due to go live in 1996 - IT specialists have said the project is fundamentally sound.

Of the remaining PTRs, 80 are thought not to need a software fix, partly because they are problems that cannot be recreated after three separate tests. A further 90 are due to be fixed by 20 December, leaving about 50 in the system after interim safety approval.

"We know what to do to fix or workaround the remaining PTRs," said a Nats spokesman. "None are related to the system-critical or safety-related aspects of the system, or will affect its functionality in any way. There are always faults in any new system." He added that none of the bugs would affect the functionality or safety of the system.

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