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Third in an occasional series on Japan’s Y2K preparedness

Staff writer

The highly computerized aviation industry has no miracle cure for the Year 2000 computer problem. Potential Y2K turmoil, however, can be averted by carrying out simple but time-consuming work, according to All Nippon Airways Co.

To zap the “millennium bug,” the country’s leading air carrier completed 95 percent of the program conversions necessary for the mainframe computers that handle daily passenger and cargo services by early April.

“Making conversions itself is not difficult,” said Masanori Tanaka, senior manager of Year 2000 Task Force. “But it is time-consuming … If we leave out something, we might face an unexpected outcome.”

The Y2K problem arises in older computers, chips, programs and software that record years by only the last two digits rather than all four. If their programming remains uncorrected, computers may mistake 2000 as 1900, which could cause errors or system failures on Jan. 1.

Of the approximately 40,000 programs used by ANA’s mainframes, about 6 percent, or some 2,500, require modification, with about 60 commands per program to be corrected, Tanaka said.

After finishing the conversions for computers handling international services, ANA in January began taking reservations for flights scheduled for Dec. 31 and after.

The carrier hasn’t had any problems so far with its own computers, including those linked with partner carriers, Tanaka said, and plans to complete the mainframe conversions by the end-of-June deadline set by the national government.

The transport industry is among several industries designated as critical fields, and Y2K compliance for them is a must.

The aviation industry relies heavily on computers. Its computer-based operations range from reservations and air traffic control to management of airport facilities and maintenance information.

According to a recent Transport Ministry survey, 10 of the country’s 11 regular service carriers will complete Y2K simulation tests of important computer systems related to flights and other services by the end of June. The remaining carrier plans to do so by the end of July.

As for the planes themselves, aircraft manufacturers, namely Boeing Co. and Airbus Industrie, have told customers worldwide that computer systems using dates are rarely employed in airplanes, Tanaka said.

While ANA does not own Airbus planes requiring computer conversions, Tanaka said, the carrier has 20 Boeing 747-400 aircraft with computers that employ dates.

Tanaka insists that any potential Y2K problems won’t affect flight operations because the date is used simply to display the effective date of the database.

Still, ANA is now replacing computer programs for those 20 planes. Although it will take some time, the work will definitely be completed before the year’s end because it can be done only while the planes are in Japan, he said.

Meanwhile, ANA and other carriers are waiting for a copy of the government’s countermeasures manual for air traffic control so they can prepare further crisis-management measures.

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