The Federal Aviation Administration has lifted a ground hold on flights across the United States after a computer outage caused thousands of delays and hundreds of consecutive cancellations in the country’s airport system.
Several flights to US destinations on Canadian airport departure boards have recorded delays from 30 minutes to more than an hour, with some cancellations. Major airports in Canada have advised American Airlines travelers to check flight status with their airline before heading to the airport.
The outage showed the world just how dependent its largest economy is on air travel and how much air travel depends on an old FAA computer system called the NOTAM (Notice to Air Missions) system.
“There have been cyclical internal issues here and there, but historically they are very important,” said Tim Campbell, American Airlines’ senior vice president of flight operations, now a Minneapolis-based advisor.
Campbell said there has long been a concern about the FAA’s technology, not just the NOTAM system.
“A lot of their systems are older platforms that are generally reliable but outdated,” he said.
The NOTAM system crashed on Tuesday night, leading to more than 1,000 flight cancellations and 7,000 flight delays as of midday Wednesday, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware. Airports in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta saw delays of between 30% and 40% of flights.
“We’ll see the cascading effects of this, the delay this morning through the system during the day,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in an interview with CNN. “Now we have to understand how this could have happened in the first place. Why the usual spikes that would have kept him from being so annoying didn’t stop him from snagging this time.”
The reason is not yet clear
The White House press secretary, Karen Jean-Pierre, said on Wednesday morning that US President Joe Biden was aware of the situation and had ordered the Department of Transportation to investigate. Jean-Pierre said there was no immediate evidence that the outage was caused by a cyberattack.
Before starting a flight, pilots are required to consult a bulletin (NOTAM), which lists possible negative effects on flights, from runway construction to the possibility of icing. The system was previously phone-based, with pilots calling dedicated flight service stations for information, but has now moved online.
All aircraft must pass through the system, including commercial and military flights.
NOTAM system crashes appear to be rare.
“I’ve been flying for 53 years. I’ve never heard of a system failure like this,” said John Cox, a former pilot and now a flight safety advisor. Then something extraordinary happened. »
Per FAA guidelines, the NOTAM system went down at 8:28 p.m. ET on Tuesday, preventing new or amended notices from being distributed to pilots. The FAA used a hotline in an attempt to maintain overnight departures, but as traffic increased during the day, it overwhelmed the hotline system.
Data from flight analytics firm Cirium indicates that more than 21,400 flights were scheduled to leave US airports on Wednesday. These flights had a capacity of approximately 2.9 million passengers, although the number of tickets sold is not clear.
Democrat Maria Cantwell, Chair of the US Senate Commerce Committee:
Our first priority is safety. As the committee prepares for FAA reauthorization legislation, we’ll examine what caused this outage and how redundancy plays a role in preventing future outages. The public needs a flexible air transport system.
It was the latest headache for North American travelers, who faced canceled holiday flights amid winter storms as well as unrelated complications with passengers of Sunwing Airlines and Southwest Airlines in late December.
Members of the House of Commons Transport, Infrastructure and Communities Committee will hold a hearing throughout the day Thursday on these issues. Executives from Sunwing, Air Canada and WestJet are set to appear as Transport Canada representatives and executives at select Canadian airports.