Preliminary reports reveal reason behind 10,000 US plane delays

FAA lifts grounding order on flights after computer outage

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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said a corrupted database file was the reason behind the nationwide grounding of nearly 10,000 flights for the first time in two decades. Preliminary findings traced the cause to a “damaged database file”, ruling out earlier speculation of a cyberattack.

The same file reportedly corrupted both the main system and its backup. An engineer “replaced one file with another” without realising the mistake, a senior official briefed on the internal review told ABC News. “It was an honest mistake that cost the country millions.”

A key system used to notify pilots and ground staff of hazards and alerts suffered a “major failure” on Tuesday night. The fault lay with the NOTAM (Notice to Air Missions) system, which keeps pilots and other airport staff updated about aviation hazards and airport facilities. The FAA was able to lift the ground stop at around 9am on the East Coast, but the damage had been done to schedules for the day. Most airlines are waiving fees for passengers to rebook travel.

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What is NOTAM?

The FAA outage that led to the grounding of US plans on Wednesday was caused by an issue with the Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system.

NOTAM is the system that keeps pilots and other airport staff updated with real-time information about aviation hazards and airport facilities across American airspace, reportedly stopped processing data. It is used to notify both pilots and airport and ground staff of incidents that may affect take-offs, landings and routes, including: air shows and parachute jumps, military exercises affecting airspace, volcanic ash clouds, obstacles close to airfields, significant flocks of birds likely to cause bird strikes or closed runways and taxiways. Rachel Sharp12 January 2023 14:30

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FAA reveals cause of outage that grounded aircrafts

A software flaw is believed to be the reason behind the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) systems failures that led to thousands of flights across the US being grounded on Wednesday morning.

The Notam (Notice to Air Missions) system, which keeps pilots and other airport staff updated about aviation hazards and airport facilities, stopped processing information on Wednesday, the FAA said. The FAA said that preliminary findings traced the cause to a “damaged database file”, ruling out earlier speculation of a cyberattack. The same file reportedly corrupted both the main system and its backup.

An engineer “replaced one file with another” without realising the mistake, according to a senior official briefed on the internal review. The person who made the error did not realise what was happening as systems began to collapse, the officer told ABC News. “It was an honest mistake that cost the country millions.” Officials at the FAA added that they were working to “further pinpoint the causes” so the issue could be avoided in the future.

Rachel Sharp12 January 2023 14:00

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Pete Buttigieg stands by decision to ground US flights

Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg has stood by his decision to ground US flights during the FAA outage on Wednesday, insisting that it was the “right call” to make sure messages were sent correctly and give officials time to rule out a cyberattack. “Safety is always our first priority, and ensuring flight safety was the reason for this morning’s ground stop while the affected systems were restored and checked,” he said in a video statment on Twitter. “As normal flight operations have resumed, FAA continues to assess the causes of the outage.”

Rachel Sharp12 January 2023 13:30

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Watch: Safety is top priority of President and Department of Transportation

Oliver O’Connell12 January 2023 13:00

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What brought US domestic flights to a standstill?

Joe Sommerlad explains how US airports ground to a halt on Wednesday morning. Oliver O’Connell12 January 2023 12:30

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Almost 600 US flights delayed or cancelled so far today

Almost 600 US flights have been delayed or cancelled so far today – as airlines continue to recover from the historic grounding of planes on Wednesday. As of 6.38am ET on Thursday, 516 flights within, into or out of the US have been delayed, according to Flightaware.

A total of 63 flights within, into or out of the US have also been cancelled. Rachel Sharp12 January 2023 12:00

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Airlines hope for return to normal operations on Thursday

The US aviation sector was struggling to return to normal following a nationwide ground stop imposed by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) early on Wednesday over a computer issue that forced a 90-minute halt to all US departing flights. More than 10,300 flights were delayed and over 1,300 cancelled by 5pm ET on Wednesday according to FlightAware, in the first national grounding of flights in about two decades, industry officials said.

Many officials compared the grounding to what occurred after the terror attacks on September 11, 2001. The total number of flights was still rising but airline officials expressed confidence that normal operations could largely return by Thursday, absent new issues. The cause of the problem with a pilot-alerting messaging system was unclear, but U.S. officials said they had so far found no evidence of a cyberattack.

US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said an issue with safety messages sent to pilots prompted the outage. Oliver O’Connell12 January 2023 11:30

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White House stands behind Buttigieg

The president “respects the secretary and the work that he has been doing” to hold airlines accountable, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on 11 January. Alex Woodward reports.

Oliver O’Connell12 January 2023 09:30

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Canada suffers same mysterious air system outage as US

Canada‘s air traffic system suffered a similar outage to the one that occurred in the US for a brief period on Wednesday. US air travel was badly disrupted by the failure of the Federal Aviation Administration‘s Notice to Air Missions system (NOTAM) overnight on Tuesday, forcing a full ground stop of domestic aviation on Wednesday morning. Nav Canada, the Canadian national air navigation service provider, released a statement just after 12.30pm as US airlines struggled to resume normal service.

Oliver O’Connell12 January 2023 07:30

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White House says ‘no evidence of a cyber attack’ in FAA outage

The White House said there is “no evidence of a cyber attack at this point” after a computer outage led the Federal Aviation Administration to halt aviation takeoffs across the US earlier in the day. “The president has directed the Department of Transportation to conduct a full investigation into the causes and provide regular updates. Again, this is incredibly important to top priority the safety of Americans who are flying.

We want to make sure that they’re safe,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.

Andrew Feinberg reports from Washington, DC.

Oliver O’Connell12 January 2023 05:30