Travel Chaos Across US After FAA Computer Glitch Grounds Thousands of Flights

Thousands of flights were canceled or delayed across the country after a computer glitch in the Federal Aviation Administration's safety system.

The country's aircraft were grounded for hours by a computer glitch in the government's aviation safety system that delayed or canceled thousands of flights before it was lifted Wednesday morning.

The FAA outage ruined travel plans for millions of passengers and delayed nearly 6,000 flights. At least 1,000 departures had been canceled by 10 a.m.

Government officials said there was no evidence of a cyberattack, but U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the computer failure was being investigated.

President Joe Biden said Wednesday he had spoken with the Transportation secretary, who advised him they did not know what went wrong.

“I just spoke to Buttigieg. They don’t know what the cause is. But I was on the phone with him about 10 minutes,” Biden said. “I told him to report directly to me when they find out."

The outage occurred in the FAA's computer system that sends real-time safety alerts to pilots. The NOTAM alerts, — short for Notice to Air Mission — are necessary for flight planning and convey updates about dangers in the air or on the ground, including closed runways and weather problems.

The NOTAM system broke down late Tuesday and worsened as air traffic increased Wednesday morning. All departing airline flights were grounded before the FAA allowed flights to resume at 9 a.m. 

The FAA system has long been criticized as outdated and antiquated. Some air traffic experts said they couldn't recall a breakdown of this magnitude in recent history.

“Periodically there have been local issues here or there, but this is pretty significant historically,” said Tim Campbell, a former senior vice president of air operations at American Airlines and now a consultant in Minneapolis, The Associated Press reported.

"So much of their systems are old mainframe systems that are generally reliable but they are out of date,” Campbell added.

The FAA tweeted the problem had been fixed Wednesday morning and aircraft departures were beginning again.

"Normal air traffic operations are resuming gradually across the U.S. following an overnight outage to the Notice to Air Missions system that provides safety info to flight crews. The ground stop has been lifted. We continue to look into the cause of the initial problem," the agency said.

A lobbying group representing the American travel industry called the system failure "catastrophic."

Geoff Freeman, president of the U.S. Travel Association, said in a statement, "America’s transportation network desperately needs significant upgrades. We call on federal policymakers to modernize our vital air travel infrastructure.".

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