US air travel resumes but thousands of flights delayed after planes grounded

An IT meltdown grounded every flight from the US this afternoon in a blow to thousands of passengers. Air travel has now resumed after planes were unable to take off in America due to the glitch with the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) computer system. The White House said there was no evidence that a cyber attack was behind the outage.

In a statement, the FAA said “normal air traffic operations are resuming gradually” across the US. However, the effects will continue for some time as the industry battles through more than 4,000 delayed flights. More than 600 were cancelled.

Update 4: The FAA is making progress in restoring its Notice to Air Missions system following an overnight outage.

Departures are resuming at @EWRairport and @ATLairport due to air traffic congestion in those areas. We expect departures to resume at other airports at 9 a.m. ET.

— The FAA ? (@FAANews) January 11, 2023

US President Joe Biden said the cause of the outage is still unclear and that it may not be known for another few hours.

“I just spoke with Buttigieg,” he told reporters, referring to US transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg. “They don’t know what the cause is. But I was on the phone with him.

“I told them to report directly to me when they find out. Aircraft can still land safely, just not take off right now. “They don’t know what the cause of it is, they expect in a couple of hours they’ll have a good sense of what caused it and will respond at that time.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre earlier tweeted: “There is no evidence of a cyber attack at this point.” The chaos began shortly after 7am Eastern Time in the US by an outage to the Notice to Air Missions system, or Notam, that provides safety info to flight crews. It conveys urgent advisory information essential for flight operations.

Stranded passengers wait at the Orlando International Airport as flights were groundedCredit: Lou Mongello via REUTERS

John Cox, a former airline pilot and aviation safety expert, said there has been talk in the aviation industry for years about trying to modernise the Notam system, but he did not know the age of the servers that the FAA uses.

He said: “I’ve been flying 53 years. I’ve never heard the system go down like this. So something unusual happened.”

Geoff Freeman, president and chief executive of the US Travel Association, said: “America’s transportation network desperately needs significant upgrades. “We call on federal policymakers to modernise our vital air travel infrastructure.” The outage caused United Airlines to temporarily delay all domestic flights.

A view of a flight parked at the Orlando International AirportCredit: Lou Mongello/via REUTERS

A total of 21,464 flights were scheduled to depart airports in the United States on Wednesday with a carrying capacity of nearly 2.9m passengers, data from Cirium shows.

FAA’s system outage comes weeks after an operational meltdown at Southwest at the end of last year left thousands of passengers stranded. A severe winter storm right before Christmas coupled with the Texas-based carrier’s dated technology led to over 16,000 flight cancellations last month. British Airways was forced to apologise in December for cancelling dozens of flights to and from America, including 15 scheduled to leave Heathrow, after an IT glitch.

However, European flights into the US were largely unaffected by the FAA’s issue.

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic continued to operate departures from Britain but advised passengers to check before they travel.