Windows 3.1 System Shuts Down Paris Airport

by - 4 years ago


Last Saturday, the Orly airport in Paris was forced to ground all flights due to a computer glitch and not just any glitch, but one caused by a system running Windows 3.1 – Yes, the early 1990s operation system.

This glitch was brought to light by French satirical weekly, Le Canard Enchaîné, which reported that the error that cause the shutdown was traced back to a system called DECOR. DECOR is used to communicate Runway Visual Range to pilots during takeoff and landings, which during adverse weather conditions such as the fog at the time, is almost invaluable. Unfortunately, this critical system runs on the once popular Windows operating system from 1992.

The use of a 20-year-old system to run a critical system is just the tip of the iceberg, which was revealed by Alexandre Fiacre, the secretary general of France’s UNSA-IESSA air traffic controller union. “The tools used by Aéroports de Paris controllers run on four different operating systems, that are all between 10 and 20 years old,” he said “Some of ADP’s machines run on UNIX [an operating system favored by universities and start-ups in the ’80s], but also Windows XP”. Frighteningly, ADP is the company responsible for running two of France’s busiest airports: Orly and Charles de Gaulle.

His further statements only serve to make me think flying to France may not be the safest prospect, stating that the dated systems are ill maintained, a lack of staff qualified to maintain them and that they are forced to resort to scouring eBay for the parts they need to keep the systems running. And even the promises made by France’s transport minister that the systems would be replaced by 2017 are doubted by Fiacre, believing 2019 would be the earliest it could be done.

I for one, worry about the safety and security of systems that are used in critical systems, when they continue to be run on poorly maintained, dated systems. I might even be thinking twice about using air travel…

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2 Comments on Windows 3.1 System Shuts Down Paris Airport

  • Avatar Munkeh Madness says:

    What a terribly written piece. You have a number of issues here……

    1. It wasn’t the operating system that caused the issue. It was the application. Applications break.
    2. UNIX is an ’80s operating system? Really? I think you’ll find that many serious systems (no, not your mickey mouse CMS) runs on this. It’s utilised heavily around the world to run much more serious systems than stuff at airports.
    3. You are happy to fly in a 30 year old plane, with 30 year old software running it, but woah betide anyone who might be running a 20 year old operating system for some of the supporting applications.

    • Avatar Jeordie White says:

      You are right about most of it. However it does appear as if he is also just reporting the story. Now to say that unix is current and is used around the world in a lot of mission critical situations for many businesses to this day is true. There are still many variants and it has great versatility with network stability with some of the popular releases and kernel design that if another part of the kernel crashes, the tcp/ip won’t go down with it.
      However from the story I read, it sounds as if they have old systems setup with alleged unix os’s that are in themselves out of date. It doesn’t give further details of which unix brand or version they are running, which would be important details. Considering that there were many unix variants back in the day and still are, and there was no true unix standard so to speak. So we can only assume that if the reports are correct, they could be using outdated versions that have long since been defunct branch and may even be from a defunct company as well that made that variant. Considering the story, it is possible that the age range may be accurate or close to the windows 3.1 release even.

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