JTwo days after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grounded all domestic flights for several hours due to a critical safety system failure, questions remain about how it happened.
Wednesday morning’s outage affected the agency’s outdated air mission notification system, known as NOTAM. The 30-year-old system provides advanced warning to pilots and flight crews of hazards such as bad weather and runway closures.
On Wednesday, the agency blamed the outage on “a damaged database file” and on Thursday night, the file “has been damaged by personnel who have not followed procedures. The agency did not say whether the incident occurred due to human error or malice.
“We need to ensure that there are enough safeguards built into the system that this level of disruption cannot occur due to one person’s decision, action or error,” he said. Pete Buttigieg told NBC News, who reported that at least one of eight contractors with access to the NOTAM system modified the corrupt data file.
Wednesday’s outage brought U.S. air travel to a virtual standstill for several hours yesterday and led to 10,578 flight delays and 1,353 cancellations.
On the same day that the US NOTAM system went down, Canada’s own NOTAM system also experienced a brief outage. Nav Canada, a private, not-for-profit company that owns and operates Canada’s air traffic control system, says the incidents are unrelated.
“While we continue to investigate the root cause, the problem was related to an isolated computer hardware failure, independent of the issue encountered by the FAA,” Nav Canada spokeswoman Vanessa Adams said in an email. “Mitigation measures were in place to support continued operations and there were no delays associated with this brief outage.”
“Measures have been taken to ensure that the sequence of events that occurred on Wednesday morning cannot be repeated,” Buttigieg said.
Many industry experts point out that years of underfunding have made it difficult for the FAA to upgrade infrastructure in a timely manner. The agency operated without a Senate-confirmed director for nearly a year.
In 2021, the Trump administration cut the agency’s budget by $3 billion, bringing it down to $14.2 billion.
This year, the FAA’s annual budget is $23.6 billion, of which $1 billion is earmarked for NextGen, the Next Generation Air Transportation System, the ongoing multi-year program to modernize the aging infrastructure of the agency.
“The FAA is in the process of modernizing its NOTAM system,” according to a staffer at Rick Larsen, a ranking member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. “The current disruption illustrates the need to modernize all corners of the aviation system.”