Rich Thomaselli | August 14, 2016 8:24 PM ET
Why The Delta Outage Will Happen Again and Again
It happened to Delta Air Lines last week.
It happened to Southwest Airlines in July.
It happened to United Airlines last summer.
And it happened to American Airlines last year as well.
Those are your four biggest U.S.-based airlines, all of which were plagued by varying degrees of power and computer outages that caused delays and cancellations.
And it’s not even a question of if it happens again, but when.
Aging technology – and more reliance on that and less on people – has contributed to severe infrastructure problems for airlines. In an email to Atlanta’s 11Alive News, Delta admitted an internal power failure caused by a small fire at its technology center in Atlanta caused a power surge that shut down the airline’s servers.
Delta said its failure to back up power on 300 of its 7,000 computer servers led to the problem and went undetected until Monday's power failure, which caused the airline to cancel more than 2,000 flights by Wednesday.
Part of the problem is, all four major U.S. carriers and several others are still relying on reservations systems run by IBM called Transaction Processing Facility, or TPF. Though IBM still updates TPF, it was designed some 50 years ago in the 1960s.
What happened? Well, today that technology is being asked to also interface with mobile apps and more, things that weren’t available 50 years ago.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Associated Press, Delta CEO Ed Bastian said that “over the last three years, we’ve invested hundreds of millions of dollars in technology, infrastructure upgrades and systems, including backup systems to prevent what happened from occurring."
But some experts are saying that airlines aren’t investing in the right places, fearing the potential cost of brand new computer systems or, worse, numerous glitches during the introduction of new software that would cause a plethora of delays and cancellations.
"When fuel prices are low and there's extra cash on hand, they want to spend it on the cool shiny things like planes and mobile apps,” Bob Edwards, formerly United’s chief information officer, told Reuters. "Nobody gets excited about the data center."
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