Staff writer

Although some airlines have announced they will reduce the number of international flights over New Year’s, the top official of an international airline organization expressed confidence that there will be no major accidents caused by the Year 2000 computer problem.

Pierre Jeanniot, director general and CEO of the International Air Transport Association, said the civil aviation industry is well-prepared for the millennium problem.

“One would have to understand that we are accustomed to flying in many different conditions. This (Y2K problem) is just one more dimension of contingency,” he said.

IATA, comprised of 265 international airlines, has helped its members tackle the Y2K problem since 1996 by offering various programs and building a database on the Y2K-readiness information of 2,400 international airports and 180 air-traffic control centers.

The organization also created contingency plans and has established communication centers around the world to monitor flight operations on a 24-hour basis.

“Any information worth reporting will be reported through these communication centers to all member airlines,” Jeanniot said during his recent visit to Japan. “We feel we are in a reasonable position (to operate flights safely over New Year’s).”

IATA estimates that its member airlines spent $2.5 billion to check and modify their computer systems since 1995. But some carriers have already announced they will reduce the number of international flights during the millennium changeover.

Jeanniot, a former president and chief executive officer at Air Canada, said it is not because of airline concerns about safety, but because they will have fewer passengers over New Year’s.

“(Air) Traffic is 20 (percent) to 25 percent of a normal day (on New Year’s Day). We usually cancel a lot of flights to save costs and to give staff the day off,” said Jeanniot, who will supervise IATA’s technical staffers working at a communication center in Montreal on New Year’s Day.

Another challenge for IATA is to urge various governments to expand capacity of airports and air-traffic control facilities toward the next century, when the international tourism industry is expected to rapidly grow, Jeanniot said.

In Asia, Japan’s neighboring economies are expanding airport capacity. For instance, a new international airport opened in Hong Kong in July 1998, and China started operating a domestic airport with a 4,000-meter runway in Shanghai last month. South Korea plans to open a new international airport in Seoul next year.

Japan also plans to open another runway in 2002 at Narita airport, the key international hub serving the Tokyo area.

But Jeanniot said the expansion will not be good enough because “the (new) 2,200 meter-long second runway at Narita is too short for long-range international operation.”

“We need more capacity in Japan, and cost-effective capacity,” Jeanniot said. “If Japan does not build more capacity, its importance in Asia will start diminishing.”

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