How Do You Say, "Sorry" In Japanese?
The Japanese government blames computer giant NEC
for the shutdown of the country's central air traffic control
system earlier this month. But the government also says its own
technicians overlooked the problem for months.
The failure, which shut down both the main computer and its
backup at 7 a.m. on March 1, forced the delay of hundreds of
thousands of passengers and prompted the cancellation of more than
200 flights over a period of 48 hours.
Investigators eventually identified the problem as a defect in a
program installed by NEC on the central air traffic control system.
The program collects flight data from airports nationwide and feeds
it to air traffic controllers, according to a statement by the
How Do You Say "I'm Really Sorry"?
Aviation bureau technicians realized the program
running on the flight data processing system was flawed when it was
installed in September, but dismissed the error as too small to
cause serious problems, the statement said.
In January, NEC technicians discovered the same defect but
decided not to report it as the system had been running smoothly
for four months and left it unfixed.
"The problem was not believed to be of great consequence," said
transport ministry spokesman Motohiro Kaneko.
When technicians made changes to a related program on the
morning of March 1, it paralyzed the entire system, disabling
automatic data transmission of all departures to and from air
The ministry acknowledged that it failed to test sufficiently
for incompatibilities before the other program was updated that
NEC: Our Bad
NEC said in a statement, "We have confirmed that a mistake in a
program made by our company was the cause of the... obstruction of
March 1." There's no indication yet of what penalties NEC may have
to pay, if any.
Aviation and NEC officials said it was highly unlikely other
traffic control systems around the world were vulnerable to the
"Logically speaking, unless they run the same program on the
same set up, it would be unlikely," said Kaneko.
Technicians reversed the changes that had prompted the shutdown
and had the main computer system up and running within an hour. The
planned updates were still being completed, Kaneko said.
All domestic and international flights were grounded for at
least half an hour after the failure occurred, but delays continued
for two days because of the backlog of earlier flights.
In total, over 200 flights were canceled, while about 1,300 were