TIME Transportation

FAA Confirms Spy Plane Caused LAX Chaos

Cold War Spy Plane
A U.S. U2 reconnaissance plane taking off at the U.S. airbase in Osan, south of Seoul, South Korea. AP

Federal aviation authorities say the security situation at Los Angeles International Airport last week that scrambled computers and caused flight cancelations was actually just a Cold War-era U2 aircraft passing overhead at high altitude

The FAA confirmed Monday that a U2 spy plane flying over Southern California last week scrambled computers and caused overall confusion at Los Angeles International Airport, resulting in flight cancellations and delays.

The Cold War-era plane confused aging computers when it flew over LAX on April 30, the FAA said. Even though the plane was flying almost twice as high as commercial airliners, the FAA said in a statement that “the computer system interpreted the flight as a more typical low-altitude operation and began processing it for a route below 10,000 feet.”

Commercial planes and the jet were miles apart with no risk of collision. But according to the FAA, “the extensive number of routings that would have been required to de-conflict the aircraft with lower-altitude flights used a large amount of available memory and interrupted the computer’s other flight-processing functions.”

The problem was resolved within an hour, although LAX reported that 50 flights were canceled and 455 experienced delays. Precautions are being made so that facilities using older computer systems will have increased available memory to prevent similar situations in the future. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta also said Friday that all 20 centers in the country will be running on a new computer system by next March.

[NBC News]

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