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Snowed-in code blamed for Comair's Xmas flight collapse

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Aging server software has been blamed for Comair's holiday collapse that left thousands of travelers stranded.

Comair last week said that winter storms had affected its computer systems responsible for scheduling flight crews. At the time, however, the carrier - a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines - did not say exactly how inclement weather had brought down its boxes. It now turns out that a dinosaur of a system was only capable of handling 32,000 scheduling changes in a month (a result of the 16-bit conundrum). Snow storms caused an unusually high number of changes to be made and brought Comair's computers down.

A poster on Slashdot claims Comair was running the scheduling software on one of IBM's AIX servers.

"The box itself is still up and running just fine; this is purely an application error," the Slashdotter wrote. "This application was not written in-house at Comair, but by another large aerospace company -- SBS."

"The great majority of Comair's traffic flows through the midwest, and the central base of operations is in Cincinnati. The midwest was hit by a major snowstorm this week, causing many, many crew reassignments. It appears right now that the application in question has a hard limit of 32,000 changes per month (ouch). Consider that Comair runs 1,100 flights a day and there are usually 3 crew members on each aircraft. A big storm like this can cause problems for days after the snow stops falling. That's a whole lot of crew changes."

Comair is said to be in the process of installing a new system called Maestro Crew - also developed by SBS, a Boeing subsidiary. The more sophisticated software package was due to be installed in January.

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has ordered an investigation into the problems that affected both Comair and US Airways over the holidays. Comair cancelled all of its flights on Christmas Day and struggled for days to get its flights back in the air.

“Comair looks forward to sharing with the Department of Transportation and its Inspector General what we have learned from this chain of events as we work together to help avoid situations like this in the future," said Comair President Randy Rademacher. "Comair will cooperate fully with the DOT in this matter."

The carrier finally restored normal operations on Wednesday. ®

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