Last updated: 04:03 PM ET, Fri November 13 2015

Computers Running Windows 3.1 Crash, Shutting Down Paris’ Orly Airport

Airlines & Airports | Rich Thomaselli | November 13, 2015

Computers Running Windows 3.1 Crash, Shutting Down Paris’ Orly Airport

PHOTO: Windows 3.11 workspace via Wikipedia.

We’re not quite sure if this is hysterical, sad, just plain frightening or a combination thereof.

Paris Orly International Airport was brought to a standstill and shut down on Saturday because of a computer glitch to its operating system – Windows 3.1.

Yep, the system that debuted in 1992 and came off the market in 2001, the system that introduced Minesweeper to the world, is still the main operating system of an airport in a major city that hosts 30 airlines and millions of passengers each year.

The issue came to light in an article published Wednesday in the French satirical weekly paper Le Canard Enchaîné (The Chained Duck), which was very much being serious this time when it reported the news. The system failure affected a program called DECOR, which is used by air traffic controllers during takeoffs and landings to pass weather information along to pilots. When controllers could not do so because of the glitch, Orly was shut down for several hours.

"The tools used by Aéroports de Paris controllers run on four different operating systems, that are all between 10 and 20 years old," said explained Alexandre Fiacre, the secretary general of France's UNSA-IESSA air traffic controller union, according to Vice News.

ADP is the company that runs both Orly and Paris’ main airport, Charles de Gaulle. Fiacre explained that ADP still utilizes such operating systems as UNIX and such programs at FORTRAN, which became obsolete at about the same time as Milli Vanilli.

"The issue with a system that old is that people don't like to do maintenance work," Fiacre said. "Furthermore, we are starting to lose the expertise [to deal] with that type of operating system. In Paris, we have only three specialists who can deal with DECOR-related issues. One of them is retiring next year, and we haven't found anyone to replace him.”

In this day and age where laptops and personal computers can become dated after six months of use, it’s surprising to find any airport running on operating systems that are old enough to drink. "Sometimes we have to go rummaging on eBay to replace certain parts," said Fiacre. "In any case, these machines were not designed to keep working for more than 20 years."

According to Le Canard Enchaîné, France's transport minister has promised that "equipment will be upgraded by 2017." Fiacre insisted that the system failure did not endanger lives.

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