Most will avoid flying on Jan. 1 |

Most will avoid flying on Jan. 1

Rick Chandler

Although most people now say that they believe not much will happen with computer systems on New Year’s Eve, you may file the following under “Why Take a Chance?”

According to a recent Times-CNN Poll, 67 percent of all Americans say they would under no circumstances book a flight on or around New Year’s Eve, 1999. The fear is not, apparently, that planes will fall from the sky at the stroke of midnight, but rather that airport terminals and runways could be a confusing mess.

Air travelers could be flying into a void of information – and maybe trouble – about Y2K preparations, the Transportation Department’s inspector general says.

There is major uncertainty about Y2K readiness in some foreign countries where Y2K preparedness has been ”sketchy or known to be inadequate,” Kenneth Mead, the transportation official, said in testimony prepared for a hearing today of the Senate’s special Y2K panel.

Mead said the International Civil Aviation Organization, a U.N.-based group that sets international flight standards, has not received responses from 34 of its 185 members about readiness for the potential computer glitch at the end of the millennium.

The concerns are focused primarily on African and Asian countries where there is a low amount of air travel. Still, officials said, about 1 million passengers last year traveled between the United States and the 34 countries yet to respond on Y2K.

Ed Smart of the International Federation of Air Line Pilot Associations told the Senate panel that pilots were confident of flight safety in North America and in the eastern Pacific and northern Atlantic regions.

”We are somewhat less confident” about Eastern Europe and other areas of the world, he said.

The FAA plans to impose flight restrictions if there is a known, verifiable safety problem. But Mead said ”we are not persuaded this approach will be sufficient because FAA is not likely to have verified evidence of problems until after Dec. 31, 1999.”

Domestically, Mead said air carriers handling 95 percent of passenger and cargo services said they would be Y2K-ready at the end of September. The Federal Aviation Administration has given assurances that vital aviation systems are prepared to handle the year 2000 date rollover and people can be confident that air travel in this country will be safe.

But Mead also noted that 1,900 smaller carriers of the 3,300 air carriers surveyed by the FAA about Y2K readiness did not respond, and only 107 of 579 non-hub and general aviation airports had completed Y2K work as of March 15.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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