16 September 2004

Flawed FAA system: Operational Risk Super-Sized

The operational risk associated with process error is a major concern these days. Especially when a human is concerned with the continuity and safety of people flying every major airline in the Southwestern U.S.. According to several reports, an FAA worker did not update a flawed FAA system that handles critical communications between controllers and pilots.

The system that failed — a high-tech touch screen tool that allows air traffic controllers to quickly communicate with planes in transit — shut itself down at the Palmdale communications center shortly after 4:30 p.m. Tuesday after a worker did not complete required monthly maintenance.

Then, the backup system failed to work because technicians had rigged it improperly, FAA officials said.

When it comes to processes and the risks associated with them, a software system flaw such as this can cause tremendous business disruption at the minimum. It's the cost of human lives that gets situations like this as much news coverage as it has garnered already. The more interesting news is that these kinds of operational incidents occur in business daily and the public will never know about it. Unless they are on the magnitude of this event. ATM's shelling out too much money. Patients being prescribed the wrong drugs. Both are errors in the systems or processes associated with running a service business. What is more alarming and still yet on the brink of discovery is how much our rush to fix Y2K problems rushed our programmers in making shortcuts, eliminating proper security code at the application level and getting the applications online at the sacrifice of good quality assurance.

Don't blame the FAA. Blame the company they hired to develop the system at the lowest bid, and the highest cost to people who are exposed to it.

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