All Calm in U.S. Skies During GMT Date Change

FRAMINGHAM (12/31/99) - Over U.S. skies Dec. 31, 1999, the Y2K elephant strained and brought forth not so much as a gnat.

During the Greenwich Mean Time rollover -- 7 p.m. Eastern Standard Time -- Federal Aviation Administration head Jane Garvey and U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.) were among the 30 passengers aboard American Airlines Flight 1099 from Washington to Dallas.

As the clock ticked to midnight London time, Garvey sent a letter to President Clinton:

"Dear Mr. President," it read. "Aviation has reached the year 2000, and I am pleased to report to you and [Transportation] Secretary [Rodney] Slater that the nation's airspace system is up and running safely and efficiently. So, using the words Orville and Wilbur Wright wrote in a telegram they sent nearly a century ago: 'Success [stop] Inform press [stop].' Happy New Year."

As the DC-80 flew over Trenton, Tenn., near Memphis, Garvey was joined on a conference call by Slater at the FAA command center in Herndon, Va., and federal Y2K Council Chairman John Koskinen, who was also in the air between Newark, N.J., and New York.

In what Gorton called "a magnificently un-historical call," they exchanged congratulations.

During the call, Slater praised the FAA for the year-and-a-half-long push that had brought the agency's Y2K readiness status up to date.

Ray Long, the FAA's Y2K program director until August 1999, remembered June 1998 as a turning point. It was then that he went to Garvey and told, "at the rate we were going, we might not make it." Garvey's response, he said, was to mobilize everyone in the FAA. "She sent a personal letter to every employee and told them this was their No. 1 job," he said.

Long, a second-generation FAA employee, has returned to the Air Traffic Control Division in Washington, where he is director of operations. The job is temporary, according to Garvey. "We have plans for Ray," she said.

According to an FAA spokesman, U.S. flights in the air during the GMT rollover totalled 2,540, slightly lower than the usual number for New Year's Eve and about half a normal midnight.

Security was also tighter than usual. The zipper on a jacket was enough to set off alarms at Reagan National Airport; a Bomb Squad canine unit patrolled at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. "We asked the airports to [pump it up]," Garvey said.

Garvey and Long will continue on to San Francisco tonight. Gorton will go on to Seattle.

The Dallas flight aboard a McDonnell Douglas MD-80 carried only about 30 passengers -- a dozen journalists, several FAA officials and a handful of passengers who were just trying to get to Dallas.

Washington-area residents Jay Reckart and Sheila Lamb booked the flight earlier in the day. "It was a spur-of-the-moment thing," Reckart said. Dressed in black tie, they were on their way to surprise a friend on her birthday/millennium party. They had no idea they were aboard a history-making flight, Lamb said, "until we got here and saw all the cameras."

Not all Y2K glitches are either "on" or "off," however, said one major enterprise software vendor. A computer glitch can occur without bringing systems down immediately, but can deteriorate performance over hours or even days. To watch for any such deterioration or Y2K problems that may not have shown up at midnight, the Transportation Department Command Center in Virginia will be staffed round the clock through Jan. 3, 2000, the FAA spokesman said.

Next on FAA's agenda, Garvey said, are modernization and safety.

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