After a computer glitch early Wednesday that caused thousands of delays and hundreds of cancellations at airports across the country, the Federal Aviation Administration has lifted the ground freeze on flights across the country.
The FAA grounded all departing flights early Wednesday morning, but allowed them to take off again shortly before 9 a.m. Eastern time. But the number of cancellations and delays continues to rise.
More than 640 flights were canceled and more than 3,700 flights were delayed. FAA’s shutdown order affects nearly all commercial airline and shipper-operated flights.
More than 21,000 flights are scheduled to depart from U.S. airports today, most of them domestic trips, according to aviation data company Cirium. In addition, 1,840 international aircraft were expected to arrive in the country.
The interruption had little effect on military operations or mobility, but some medical flights may be cleared.
Air Mobility Command flights were unaffected, according to Air Force Colonel Damien Pickart, a spokesperson for the organization. Air Mobility Command is in charge of all troop movements and resupply flights, including the C-17s that transport the president’s motorcade vehicles when he travels and all flights that move troops from one base to another. The FAA and Air Mobility Command worked together on the problem.
President Joe Biden told reporters he had directed the Department of Transportation to investigate the reason for the outage, despite the White House’s initial claim that there is no evidence of a cyberattack.
Before leaving the White House on Wednesday to accompany his wife to surgery at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center outside Washington, Biden spoke about the FAA issue. He claimed to have just received a briefing from Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, telling him they still hadn’t determined what went wrong.
“I just spoke to Buttigieg. They don’t know what caused it. But I was on the phone with him for about 10 minutes,” said Biden. “I told him to report directly to me if they find out. Air traffic can still land safely, not take off now. We don’t know what caused it.”
— Jeremy Nelson (@jnelsonWJCL) January 11, 2023
Buttigieg said in a tweet that he is in contact with the FAA and is monitoring the situation.
A request for comment from the FBI was not immediately met. While the delays occurred mainly along the east coast, they are now rapidly spreading to the west coast.
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Work was underway on the Notice to Air Missions system, according to the FAA
“We are performing final validation checks and are now reloading the system”, said the FAA. “Operations throughout the national airspace system are affected.” The agency noted that some features are starting to come back online, but that “National Airspace System operations remain limited.”
On Wednesday, Julia Macpherson learned of possible delays when traveling on a United Airlines plane from Sydney to Los Angeles.
“While on the air, I got the news from a friend who was also traveling abroad that there was a power outage,” said Macpherson, who returned to Florida from Hobart, Tasmania. Once she lands in Los Angeles, she still has a connection in Denver on her flight to Jacksonville, Florida.
She claimed no statements on the FAA issue were made during the trip.
When her original trip from Melbourne to San Francisco was canceled, Macpherson claimed she had to rebook a flight from Sydney to Los Angeles, delaying her travels.
The FAA is currently repairing the air mission notification system.
Pilots are required to review NOTAMs or Notices to Air Missions before embarking on a flight. These documents describe potential adverse effects on aviation, from runway construction to the possibility of icing. Before going online, the system was phone-based, requiring pilots to call certain flight service stations to obtain information.
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The NOTAM system doesn’t seem to have many glitches
“I don’t remember the NOTAM system ever going down like this. I’ve been flying for 53 years,” said John Cox, a former airline pilot and an aviation safety consultant.
At about 8:28 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday, the NOTAM system malfunctioned, preventing pilots from receiving new or updated messages, according to an FAA advisory. The FAA turned to a telephone hotline to continue the overnight departure, but as daytime traffic increased, the telephone backup system became overloaded.
The US military has its own NOTAMS system, independent of the FAA systemand the military system was not disrupted by the outage, Air Force spokesman Ann Stefanek said.
Flights from Europe to the United States seemed largely unaffected.
According to Irish airline Aer Lingus, flights to the United States are still being offered and the Dublin Airport website stated that flights to Newark, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles departed on time.
“Aer Lingus intends to operate all transatlantic flights as scheduled today.” the carrier said in a prepared statement. “We will continue to monitor, but do not expect any disruption to our services due to the technical issue in the United States.”
This is just the most recent inconvenience for Americans who had to deal with holiday flight cancellations due to winter weather and a problem with Southwest Airlines’ workforce technology. While demand for travel skyrocketed during the COVID-19 outbreak, they also faced long queues, missing luggage, cancellations and delays during the summer. They also saw staff cuts at airports and airlines in the United States and Europe.
As it progressed, the FAA promised to provide regular updates.
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