Published On: Wed, Jan 11th, 2023

FAA system restored after outage that halted all domestic flight departures in the U.S.


Flights across the United States resumed Wednesday morning, several hours after the Federal Aviation Administration suffered a computer outage that forced it to halt all departures nationwide while it scrambled to resolve the issue.

The FAA said the crippling delays that affected thousands of flights appear to have been caused by a problem in the Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system, which sends pilots vital information they need to fly.

Investigators have seen no evidence of a cyberattack, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

President Joe Biden ordered an investigation after he was briefed on the situation by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wa., who heads the Senate Commerce Committee that oversees the FAA, said they too will look into the matter.

“The number one priority is safety,” Cantwell said in a statement. “As the Committee prepares for FAA reauthorization legislation, we will be looking into what caused this outage and how redundancy plays a role in preventing future outages. The public needs a resilient air transportation system.”

Meanwhile, the top Republican on that committee, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, said the “FAA’s inability to keep an important safety system up and running is completely unacceptable and just the latest example of dysfunction within the Department of Transportation.”

The delays came just weeks after Southwest Airlines caused travel chaos by canceling more than 2,500 of its flights during the Christmas season.

The FAA lifted the ground stop around 8:50 a.m. and normal air traffic operations began resuming gradually. But by then airports across the country were already crowded with frustrated travelers and a backlog of flights.

As of 10:30 a.m., more than 6,500 flights within, to and out of the U.S. were delayed, according to the online flight tracker FlightAware. More than 940 flights were listed as canceled.

Click here to follow the live coverage.

The first sign that this was likely to be a massive incident came around 7:20 a.m. when the FAA sent out a tweet ordering the airlines to pause all domestic departures until 9 a.m. ET “to allow the agency to validate the integrity of flight and safety information” as it worked to restore the NOTAM system.

All flights already in the sky were safe to land, the FAA said.

“Pilots check the NOTAM system before they fly,” the agency said. “A Notice to Air Missions alerts pilots about closed runways, equipment outages, and other potential hazards along a flight route or at a location that could affect the flight.”

As the drama unfolded, cybersecurity experts told NBC News that the likeliest cause was a bad software update.

“Today’s FAA catastrophic system failure is a clear sign that America’s transportation network desperately needs significant upgrades,” U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman said in a statement. “Americans deserve an end-to-end travel experience that is seamless and secure. And our nation’s economy depends on a best-in-class air travel system.

“We call on federal policymakers to modernize our vital air travel infrastructure to ensure our systems are able to meet demand safely and efficiently,” he said.

Buttigieg said in a tweet that he had “been in touch with FAA this morning about an outage affecting a key system for providing safety information to pilots.”

United Airlines said earlier it had temporarily delayed all domestic flights. It said it would issue an update when it learned more from the FAA about the situation.

Southwest Airlines said it was “closely monitoring” the situation and that it “may impact the start of operations” Wednesday.

“An FAA system outage is causing ground stops at AUS and other airports across the country,” the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport said in a tweet.

“Arriving & departing passengers can expect delays this morning & through the day,” it said, adding: “Please stay in contact with your airline & check your flight status before heading to AUS.”

Flights over the United States at 7 a.m. ET Wednesday.
Flights over the United States at 7 a.m. ET Wednesday. Flight Aware

A number of social media users said they had been affected by the situation.

Heather Allen, 32, was meant to fly from New York City to Seattle with her fiancé to visit her family for a delayed holiday visit. She was watching a movie on her plane and still on the tarmac at John F. Kennedy International Airport when she and other passengers were told to get off their Delta Airlines flight.

She said she learned of the outage by reading the news on Twitter and had been on the plane for about an hour before she had to deplane.

“Trying to be patient, but feeling frustrated,” Allen said. She said the situation at the airport was “not currently chaotic, but could be if delays are longer.”

The issue also appeared to have affected some flights to the U.S.

A number of airports outside the U.S. said operations were continuing as normal, but the international airport operator Aéroports de Paris, or Airports of Paris, said all flights by American airline companies had been delayed. It said non-American airlines were flying out as normal without interruption.

Air France said all of its U.S.-bound flights were operating as planned and were not affected by the FAA computer outage. It said it continued to monitor the situation.

“As far as we are aware, we are still operating to/from the U.S. at the moment,” a spokesperson for Gatwick Airport in London said.

A spokesperson for Frankfurt Airport in Germany said the FAA outage had not affected its operations.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.





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