Friday, November 20, 2009

Very Low Tech

Just in time for the debate over nationalizing health care, the air traffic control system came to a halt because a card in a router in Utah failed. Tech Snafu Grounds Nation's Fliers

The failure of a single piece of computer gear in Utah disrupted travel for thousands Thursday, exposing the risks of the long-running patchwork upgrade of the nation's air-traffic-control system.

It is the second time in 15 months that a tech glitch threw air travel into disarray across large swaths of the country. The problems took four hours to resolve, and prompted fresh calls from Congress for the Federal Aviation Administration and its private contractors to do more to prevent cascading delays caused by relatively small problems.

The FAA has been struggling for years to upgrade its antiquated systems, layering modern hardware and software on top of decades-old air-traffic-control technology critical to day-to-day operations. Fully modernizing could take at least another decade and as much as $40 billion in public and private funding. Debates over who would pay and how the money would be spent have held back progress.

A member of my family was working at the Dept. of Transportation when the FAA was in the midst of "modernizing" the air traffic control system. It was already years over due and fatally over-budget. This was back in 1990. 1990! Things obviously haven't gotten better. Management of the air transport system is the sort of work that the government should be doing, so I'm not going to start building my Libertarian private sector alternative to the FAA. However, this does highlight the fundamental problem of Big Government: it tries to do so much that it cannot do anything at all very well, even when the task at hand is one where the government enjoys a monopoly.

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