They say that flying is one of the safest modes of traveling, and statistically speaking, it is safer than walking on the street or driving a car. Well, there are cock-ups that might happen during a flight as well, otherwise we would not have series like Seconds From Disaster, but thankfully, those are far and few in between, and lessons from the past have been well learnt to protect passengers in the future. Having said that, the airline industry practices the mantra of “better safe than sorry” and “when in doubt, don’t.” Recently, an anomaly with a $2.4 billion Lockheed Martin Corp (En Route Automation Modernization system, or ERAM) air traffic control system caused flights to be delayed, diverted and cancelled.
We already covered the story in depth last week, and apparently the U-2 spy plane that friend this multi-billion system, causing 27 flights to be cancelled, with another 212 flights delayed while a remaining 27 flights diverted from LAX, could be attributed to a lack of memory in the computer system.
Yup, you read that right – a lack of memory. What seemed to be all too elementary has happened in real life. It was an unforeseen circumstance to be fair, since majority of the aircraft out there do have a very simple flight plan which will limit the data that is sent back to the ERAM, hence being manageable within the system limits. As for the U-2 spy plane’s plan, it was a whole lot complicated, hence locking up the system as the sheer volume of data that the ERAM had to calculate overwhelmed it.
Anonymous sources have shared, “The system is only designed to take so much data per airplane. It keeps failing itself because it’s exceeded the limit of what it can do.” Thankfully, the overall downtime was limited to under an hour, but it is a lesson well learnt.