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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Y2K Readiness of Airlines Unclear

WASHINGTON -- Countries and the airlines and airports they oversee are starting to address the year 2000 computer problem, but it won't be clear until later this summer where it will be safe and easy to travel come the new year.

The International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations-based group responsible for international aviation standards, asked its 185 member nations to report on their local readiness by Thursday.

The U.S. State Department and the Federal Aviation Administration plan to use that data to issue travel advisories starting in mid- to late July. The two agencies are also hoping to get insight from the International Air Transport Association, a trade group that represents 260 international airlines. It has been conducting a private survey of airline readiness.

Because both sets of information are self-reported and won't be available for public inspection, it's unclear how reliable and useful it may be.

"It's hoped that between the two of them, we might get some kind of picture into readiness,'' said FAA spokesman Paul Takemoto. "The accuracy of that picture is yet to be determined.''

Aviation experts expect the United States and many countries in Europe and the developed areas of Asia to be ready, but the biggest problems may occur in developing nations, which were slow in committing attention and resources to the problem.

Denis Chagnon, a spokesman for the International Civil Aviation Organization, refused to say which nations have already responded to his group's survey. He explained last week: "The response was slow getting off the mark, but as people are nearing the deadline and needing information to complete their own readiness plans, I think the response will pick up.''

The year 2000, or Y2K, problem is a glitch that may cause computers to malfunction beginning Jan. 1. Some older computers recognize years in a two-digit format, such as "00,'' so they may confuse 2000 with 1900. The FAA has been criticized for its slow start in addressing the problem, but it said that all of its vital computer systems will be repaired and ready to handle the changeover by the close of business Wednesday. The agency conducted a live test of its repairs in Denver in April.

Following that test, most of the attention shifted to the readiness of domestic airports, as well as that of airlines and airfields outside the United States.

Airports around the world are seen as susceptible to Y2K problems because they rely on outside services, from electricity supplied by the local power company to telephone services from the local provider.

Regardless of the repairs an airport makes to its own computers and on-site backup systems, the services in its terminals or along its baggage belts are vulnerable to problems off the airport property.

U.S. airlines and the government have also been eager to gauge readiness in other countries. Many U.S. carriers have partnerships with foreign airlines, so they need to ensure a smooth transfer of their passengers over the post-holiday travel period. Also, the government wants to make sure that foreign airfields are safe for U.S.-registered aircraft.

Kevin Dobby, senior director at the International Air Transport Association, said his group has seen a change as it has visited more than 600 airports around the world this year on behalf of its member airlines.

"One of the things we see now as we start to do repeat visits is the level of awareness and activity is very high,'' he said.

International airlines are also picking up the pace of their work and expect to spend $2.3 billion overall readying their computer systems, Dobby said.

Airlines have already passed one critical test: Their computers have started processing reservations for flights next year.

"We're not out of the woods, but we're encouraged by what we're starting to see,'' Dobby said. "We spent a lot of time trying to raise awareness, and it appears that we have been successful at that.''