Over 8,000 thousand flights were delayed and 1,200 were canceled across America on Wednesday, January 11, due to a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) system outage. According to the tracking site FlightAware, all flights all over the United States were grounded for the first time since 9/11 after a Notice to Air Missions system (NOTAM) failure.
“So it’s a standardized uniform way for getting important safety messages out to airports, aircraft, and airlines,” said Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “For example, if a runway is closed or maybe a navigation beacon is something that a pilot would need to know for safety reasons.”
The first complaints from passengers that their flights had been grounded started at around 4:00 a.m. EST on Wednesday, but it wasn’t until 6:30 am that the FAA announced it had grounded all flights as a result of an overnight crash of its NOTAM system, which pilots use to receive hazard warnings and safety updates. By 9:00 a.m., the issue had been resolved and flights started to take off again. But the hours-long pause sent the day’s travel into a chaos that is expected to last hours, if not days.
The FAA said in a statement that the agency is continuing a thorough review to determine the root cause of the NOTAM system outage. “Our preliminary work has traced the outage to a damaged database file. At this time, there is no evidence of a cyberattack. The FAA is working diligently to further pinpoint the causes of this issue and take all needed steps to prevent this kind of disruption from happening again,” it said.
Zach Griff, a senior writer at travel website the Points Guy, said once the system became operational again, flights were theoretically allowed to resume but airlines can’t simply just “restart” their operations.
He said that due to many planes already being delayed and in the wrong place, flight crews operating planes were already thrown off schedule and they can only legally work a certain number of hours. “This domino effect will continue to lead to a slew of delays and cancellations throughout the U.S. likely in the next few days,” Griff noted.
Experts: There is no excuse for system failure and lack of backup plans
According to experts, this is not a common occurrence. “I haven’t dealt with anything like this, it sounds like it’s been quite some time since the FAA might have had some issues in the past, but nothing recently or within the last, I would say five to six years,” Will Rogers World Airport’s Stacey Hamm said.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre posted on Twitter that there is no evidence of a cyberattack. “The President has been briefed by the secretary of transportation this morning on the FAA system outage. There is no evidence of a cyberattack at this point, but the president directed DOT to conduct a full investigation into the causes. The FAA will provide regular updates,” she tweeted.
Airline industry experts slammed Buttigieg for the debacle as he failed to explain the outage during a press conference, saying only that flights were grounded “out of an abundance of caution.” (Related: Pilot video, FAA interview reveal strange encounter with unidentified aircraft over Atlantic City.)
Analysts said there is “no excuse” for the failure, which is the latest in a string of embarrassing transport headaches since he took office.
“‘There is no excuse for this. We need qualified aviation-related people in charge of the FAA, not people who know people in Washington,” Michael Boyd, chairman of the Boyd Group, an aviation research company, told CNBC‘s “Squawk Box.”
Political activist and entrepreneur Donald Trump Jr. said the outage “made America look like a third world country” while Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ deputy press secretary tweeted: “Mayor Pete is having another great day as Secretary of Transportation! Maybe we should spend less time on racist roads and more time on our critical infrastructure.”
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