US East Coast flights were disrupted on Saturday due to a memory issue in the En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) system, prompting the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) to launch an official investigation.
Data from flight control systems could apparently not be deleted from storage units, despite air traffic controllers’ attempts, placing the ERAM system into a processing frenzy. Although the FAA gave no additional details as to what triggered the issue, they did speculate that a software upgrade to one of their high-altitude radar facility might have caused it.
“[The FAA] is focusing on a recent software upgrade at a high-altitude radar facility in Leesburg, Virginia as the possible source of [the Aug. 15] automation problems,” said the FAA. “The upgrade was designed to provide additional tools for controllers. The FAA has disabled the new features while the agency and its system contractor complete their assessment.”
The Lockheed Martin-designed ERAM system has been managing US airspace traffic at all 20 en route ATC centers for more than a year and it was supposed to reduce flight delays and cut aircrafts’ fuel consumption. The FAA has claimed that the system has been operating with 99.99% availability since it was introduced.
Lockheed Martin said it was notified of the incident and it’s working with the FAA to help remedy the issue.
“We were alerted to issues with air traffic control affecting cities such as New York and Washington DC,” said a spokesperson for Lockheed Martin. “As an FAA partner on their NextGen [ATC] modernization efforts, Lockheed Martin engineers and technologists quickly began working with the FAA to provide assistance.”
Until investigations reveal more information about the incident, the FAA has temporarily suspended the use of the ERAM system and reverted to the 40-year-old En Route Host computer and backup system previously in use.