Tue, Jan 06, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Computer glitch causes airport chaos

BACK TO BASICS All travel documents were being hand-checked by immigration officers, causing long lines and leaving thousands of passengers frustrated

By Jenny W. Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Travelers stand in line while waiting to go through the immigration barrier at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport yesterday after the National Immigration Agency computer system failed.

PHOTO: YAO KAI-SHIOU, TAIPEI TIMES

Immigration officials at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport scrambled to hand-record travel information for thousands of passengers yesterday after the National Immigration Agency (NIA) computer system crashed.

The NIA’s main and backup systems experienced sporadic malfunctions throughout the day. At press time, the system was undergoing repair and was not expected to be back online until noon today, NIA Deputy Director-General Huang Bi-hsia (黃碧霞) said.

Kaohsiung International Airport and Kinmen Airport, which mostly caters to passengers traveling to China via the three mini-links, also reported system malfunctions.

The NIA cited faulty computer hardware, but said the main computer system at the agency was working normally, though it was not accessible at the airport.

The hardware had been replaced and the agency would have more information about the nature of the problems once they were resolved, Huang said.

The Central News Agency reported that the NIA had recently terminated its contract with its computer system maintenance company, which was replaced on Thursday.

The report suggested that a bug could have been planted by a disgruntled individual.

All travel documents were being hand-checked by immigration officers yesterday, causing long lineups and leaving thousands of passengers frustrated. Officers wrote down passengers’ travel information, which the NIA said would be entered into the system once the computers had been fixed.

Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport opened 40 immigration windows to handle the backlog of passengers, Huang said.

Repair work began immediately after the system malfunction was discovered at 6:45am, a peak travel hour. Technicians were still battling with the problematic hardware at 2pm, Huang said.

Yesterday was a particularly busy travel day as the first working day following the four-day New Year holiday weekend.

Many passengers feared delays would prevent them from making connecting flights, but the NIA said no passengers had missed their flights because of the glitch.

Huang acknowledged the breakdown could result in a security breach, and said the NIA would not be able to ascertain whether anyone had slipped in or out of the country illegally until the system was up and running.

As of 1pm yesterday, approximately 20,000 people had exited the country through Taiwan Taoyuan International airport.

Minister of the Interior Liao Liou-yi (廖了以) and NIA Director-General Hsieh Li-kung (謝立?urveyed the situation at the airport yesterday afternoon and stayed for 20 minutes after being updated on the situation by airport officials.

One day earlier, hundreds of travelers departing from Taiwan Taoyuan airport on 11 different flights had to leave without their checked-in luggage when a conveyor belt broke down for almost two hours.

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