Modernization of a computer system responsible for the processing of essential flight data is near completion.
An outage in the National Airspace Data Interchange Network (NADIN) last week caused hundreds of air traffic delays. However, important upgrades to the system are just months from being finished. NADIN supports the critical exchange of flight plan data, weather information, Notices to Airmen and other flight safety-related messages. Its also an important link between the FAA and countries belonging to the International Civil Aviation Organization. As well as FAA, system users include other U.S. government agencies such as the National Weather Service and Departments of Defense and Homeland Security. Commercial aviation interests access the system, including the airlines. Soon, all of these users will benefit from a major upgrade. NADIN can be broadly viewed as two networks. One network provides a data distribution capability, while the other collects it. The collection capability is the part getting an upgrade. That network was commissioned in 1988 and now processes more than 1.5 million messages a day. It has central message switches at facilities in Atlanta and Salt Lake City, which serve as backups to each other in the event that one should fail. Data is also collected in concentrators located at each of the FAAs En Route Centers, which control high-altitude air traffic. Currently, these concentrators are very sensitive to network problems and have a tendency to lock up. New high-speed servers are replacing the collection switches at the FAAs two primary NADIN facilities in Atlanta and Salt Lake City, as well as the antiquated concentrators in each En Route Center. In addition, system gateway upgrades have already been completed at En Route Centers in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago and Fort Worth. When that deployment is finished in early 2009, NADIN will have increased storage and dramatically improved processing speed, which will alleviate the bottlenecks the FAA has seen in the past. An example of one such bottleneck occurred last week when the NADIN database in Atlanta was corrupted. All of the Atlantas data had to be switched to Salt Lake City, which was soon overwhelmed with a huge surge of information. And flight delays ensued. With the upgrades in place, such bottlenecks will be a thing of the past.