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Computer issues stop planes from leaving Los Angeles area for more than hour

LOS ANGELES, Calif. - Flights from airports in the Los Angeles area were grounded for more than an hour Wednesday due to a computer failure at an air traffic control facility in the region, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

The problems rippled across the West. Dozens of planes heading into the Los Angeles area were diverted elsewhere or prevented from taking off at airports in Phoenix, Las Vegas, Oklahoma City and elsewhere.

The "ground stop" in Southern California affected several airports including Los Angeles International, the nation's third busiest, where "over 30 departing flights were held on the ground," said Nancy Castles, an airport spokeswoman.

Officials at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, near Los Angeles, said flights were held from 1:50 p.m. PDT until 3:20 p.m. PDT.

A notice posted on the FAA website said planes were not allowed to depart Los Angeles because of a failure of the agency's En Route Automation Modernization system, also known as ERAM.

The computer system allows air traffic controllers at several dozen "en route centres" around the country to identify and direct planes at high altitudes.

The Los Angeles en route centre is located at the Palmdale Regional Airport, about 40 miles (64 kilometres) north of Los Angeles. It controls high altitude air traffic over southern and central California, southern Nevada, southwestern Utah and western Arizona — except for airspace designated for military use.

Planes flying at lower altitudes are directed by approach control centres and local airport towers.

The ERAM system is s critical to the FAA's plans to transition from a radar-based air traffic control system to satellite-based navigation, but its rollout is years behind schedule and hundreds of millions of dollars over budget.

ERAM is replacing another computer system that was so old that most of the technicians who understood its unique computer language have retired.

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