Comair – It Was The Software

A few days ago, while pondering the Comair Christmas meltdown, I said:

Comair isn’t letting me into their inner sanctum, but it’s probable that the structure of the computer system that handles their crew assignments, weight balance, manifesting and the like wasn’t equipped to handle all the ‘exceptions’ it was asked to ponder this past week.

I hit it right on the nose! Linked below is a story from today’s Cincinnati Post which details exactly what happened.

Comair says the computer system was due to be replaced. I wonder if the DOT inquiry will show it should have been replaced a while ago. How long was Comair operating close to the limits of their system? Was this problem predictable?

How it happened

Onslaught overtaxed an old computer By Bob Driehaus

Cincinnati Post staff reporter

The computer software that crashed and grounded Comair’s entire fleet on Christmas Day was an antiquated system due to be replaced in the coming months.

Comair was lurching toward normalcy Monday with about 60 percent of its flights operating after canceling all 1,100 flights system-wide Saturday after the computer crash. The Hebron-based Delta Air Lines subsidiary hopes to be back to 100 percent by Wednesday.

But it has a long way to go in repairing the damage that was initiated by a harsh winter storm and compounded greatly by a computer system that couldn’t handle the load.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta on Monday ordered the launch of an investigation into travel disruptions that impacted Comair and US Airways.

“It is important that the department and the traveling public understand what happened, why it happened, and whether the carriers properly planned for the holiday travel period and responded appropriately to consumer needs in the aftermath,” Mineta said.

The Federal Aviation Administration is monitoring the situation but has not launched an investigation, a spokeswoman said.

Comair threw up the white flag Saturday when the cumulative effect of the winter storm that hit last Wednesday and Thursday caused a crash of the computer that organizes crew scheduling.

The computer system was run by SBS International, a subsidiary of Boeing.

The SBS Crew Check system tracks all the details of where each crew member is scheduled and keeps a log of every scheduling change.

Tom Carter, a computer consultant with Clover Link Systems of Los Angeles, said the application has a hard limit of 32,000 changes in a single month.

“This probably seemed like plenty to the designers, but when the storms hit last week, they caused many, many crew reassignments, and the value of 32,000 was exceeded,” he said.

Carter said SBS’s newer system, called Maestro Crew, is a far more sophisticated system unlikely to run into the same problem that Comair faced.

Nick Miller, Comair spokesman, said the computers were running again by late Saturday and were functioning properly.

In addition to undoing the damage of the computer problem, the airline was still struggling to de-ice its planes, he said.

Each problem compounded with the last to result in Comair’s worst operational crisis since a pilot strike grounded the fleet for 89 days in 2001:

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