In France Windows 3.1 Is Still Alive and it brought French Airport to a standstill

If you think that Microsoft’s Windows 3.1 belongs to the museums, you are wrong. The Paris airport of Orly apparently still uses it and it is the reason which brought the Orly airport to a standstill on Saturday.

The report was confirmed by an article published on Wednesday by French weekly Le Canard Enchaîné said the computer failure had affected a system known as DECOR, which is used by air traffic controllers to communicate weather information to pilots. Pilots rely on the system when weather conditions are poor.

The problem is that DECOR, which is used in takeoff and landings, runs on Microsoft’s Windows 3.1, an operating system that came onto the market in 1992.

Windows 3.1x  is a series of 16-bit operating systems produced by Microsoft for use on personal computers. The series began with Windows 3.1, which was first sold during April 1992 as a successor to Windows 3.0. Windows 3.1’s claim to fame is that it first brought Minesweeper — a single-player video game that was responsible for wasting hours of PC owners’ time in the early ’90s.

DECOR’s breakdown on Saturday prevented air traffic controllers from providing pilots with Runway Visual Range, or RVR, information. The RVR is a value that determines the distance a pilot can see down the runway. Add to the mayhem, Orly was engulfed by a fog even as the engineers tried to find and patch the glitch in the operating system. The result was that all flights landing and taking off from Orly airport were grounded as a precaution through the day.

“The tools used by Aéroports de Paris controllers run on four different operating systems, that are all between 10 and 20 years old,” explained Alexandre Fiacre, the secretary general of France’s UNSA-IESSA air traffic controller union. ADP is the company that runs both Orly and Paris’ other airport, Charles de Gaulle, one of the busiest in the world.

“Some of ADP’s machines run on UNIX [an operating system favored by universities and start-ups in the ’80s], but also Windows XP,” said Fiacre, who works as an aviation security systems engineer.

“The issue with a system that old is that people don’t like to do maintenance work,” explained Fiacre. “Furthermore, we are starting to lose the expertise [to deal] with that type of operating system. In Paris, we have only three specialists who can deal with DECOR-related issues,” said Fiacre.

“One of them is retiring next year, and we haven’t found anyone to replace him,” he added.

The airport authorities have still not commented on the issue, while Le Canard Enchaîné reported that France’s transport minister has promised that “equipment will be upgraded by 2017.”

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