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The difference between a bank and a bureaucracy

The contractors working on the Federal Aviation Administration’s NOTAM system apparently deleted files by accident, leading to the delays and cancellations of thousands of US flights. If you’ll recall, the FAA paused all domestic departures in the US on the morning of January 11th, because its NOTAM or Notice to Air Missions system had failed. NOTAMs typically contain important information for pilots, including warnings for potential hazards along a flight’s route, flight restrictions and runway closures.

They were trying to upgrade an old system.

Hmm, sounds familiar:

Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has been fined £56m by regulators after a 2012 software issue left millions of customers unable to access accounts.

RBS, NatWest, and Ulster Bank customers were affected in June 2012 after problems with a software upgrade.

The Financial Conduct Authority fined RBS £42m, and the Prudential Regulation Authority fined the bank £14m.

They were trying to upgrade an old system.

Ah, but:

The FAA had already fixed the problem and had taken steps to make the system more resilient, but the incident certainly puts the reliability of FAA’s outdated technologies into question. The Transportation Department itself previously described the NOTAM system as “failing vintage hardware” in a budget document requesting $30 million to fund its upgrades.

The FAA failing while upgrading will lead to a request for – and a granting of – more funding, won;t it?

Capitalists fail and get fined.

Which is the difference between bureaucracy and business of course.

6 thoughts on “The difference between a bank and a bureaucracy”

  1. Indeed. The attractions of working for a bureaucracy. And no doubt the reasons for all those tales of wicked monarchs liberally applying the boiling oil and the molten lead.

  2. NOTAM = Notice to air MEN.
    Was changed by the FAA in 2021 to make the language more inclusive. Given my recreational flying training isn’t really a ‘mission’ I now feel excluded. To whom do I address my complaint?

  3. I had NATS, the UK air traffic system, as a client once. We had a maintenance contract for a couple of their computers. It was supposed to last around two years. We were there for eleven. There were three replacements systems in that time, the last being on ‘off-the-shelf’ product they decided to customise for their own requirements. The original system was to put information screens on the controllers’ desks so they could call up pages of data, like the weather, or conditions at other airports and such. IBM had specced that system, and it required, on each desk, a PS/2 running OS/2 with a proprietary graphics card running on the MCA bus. For the uninitiated, or young, this is in each case the equivalent of betamax. By the second postponement of the replacement they were trolling ebay for PS/2s and MCA cards.

    I did suggest, as a lowly mechanic, that any current PC with Win, *nix or Apple OS could have done this with a web browser and all they would need to do would be deal with access and security issues. They stuck with their plan.

    Our machine went about eight years without a reboot. Obviously you could only work on it at night. Of course the duty SERCO man had to be called out from home, he was never there when anyone from any of the systems was at work. You weren’t allowed to even solder anything without him.

  4. When I first heard this story I thought someone had overwritten a settings file, but it sounds more like a manual deployment.

    Build the installer/script as part of your testing phase. So, it’s a thing you run to create the test server. If you break the test server, you fix the installer, then retest. Great, so now you have an automatic process. And when you go live, you just run installer.

    And this is why my installs take about 5 minutes at 8pm and I’m not up all night fixing shit.

  5. I guess some people are stupid enough to think that regulators and fines are something other than tax by a different name!

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