We know that the new En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) computer program is still full of bugs.
The ERAM software is the program that is supposed to replace the FAA’s HOST computer that currently runs its enroute controllers’ radar displays and processes flight plan information.
Because of the deployment schedule (the FAA likes to call it “waterfall”) for ERAM, it must be able to interface properly with those facilities running the current enroute computer system (the HOST computer).
Of course the plan is to eventually have all the facilities running ERAM, but the switchover won’t be instantaneous nationwide; some facilities will run ERAM before others.
However, there is at least one software bug in ERAM that they’ve known about since last fall and have not fixed, where under certain conditions the ERAM program had the potential to overload an adjacent facility’s HOST computer with flight plan data, eventually causing it to crash.
Although the bug in ERAM is difficult to replicate it hasn’t yet been corrected, and reared its ugly head not long ago during an ERAM test. At that time a software technician noticed the problem developing and “pulled the plug”, disconnecting the HOST computer from the interface to an adjacent ERAM computer before it caused the HOST computer to crash.
Now one would think the the FAA and its ERAM contractor, Lockheed Martin, would have made tracking down and correction of this particular bug a priority a long time ago, given the damage it could do.
Instead, however, the FAA decided to patch the HOST computer (a computer system that’s quite stable) to protect it from this ERAM bug.
It’s another band-aid fix for the ERAM program, that continues to have bugs serious enough to cause a significant degradation in safety in the air traffic system.
However, the latest HOST patch won’t protect it from any of the other rare and/or yet undiscovered bugs in ERAM. Given the number of known bugs in ERAM it’s likely that there are more that are capable of crashing adjacent HOST computers systems.
They were having so many problems tracking and fixing bugs with ERAM that they redesigned the bug-tracking and correction schemes this spring. But the more things change, apparently the more they stay the same.
If the FAA now feels the need to start patching the HOST to protect it from ERAM bugs it certainly doesn’t say much for the state of the ERAM program itself.
At least in this case the FAA has decided it’s easier to patch the HOST as protection against ERAM bugs than it is to fix the bugs in ERAM itself. And if that’s not the “cart pulling the horse” I don’t know what is…