aviation industry

Airlines hope for return to normal after FAA outage snarls US travel

Reuters
Airlines hope for return to normal after FAA outage snarls US travel

GROUNDED. A view of flights parked at the Orlando International Airport, in Orlando, Florida, January 11, 2023.

Lou Mongello/Reuters

(7th UPDATE) More than 10,000 flights are delayed and over 1,300 canceled in the United States on Wednesday, January 11

The US aviation sector was struggling to return to normal on Wednesday, January 11, after a nationwide ground stop imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) over a computer issue that forced a 90-minute halt to all US departing flights.

More than 10,000 flights have been delayed so far and over 1,300 canceled, according to FlightAware, in the first national grounding of flights in about two decades. Many industry officials compared the grounding to what occurred after the terror attacks on September 11, 2001.

Major carriers, such as Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and American Airlines, all reported 40% or more of flights Wednesday delayed or canceled, though airline officials expressed confidence that normal operations could largely return by Thursday, January 12.

The FAA computer issue had prevented airports from filing updated safety notices that warn pilots of potential hazards such as runway closures, poor weather, and construction, bringing flights to a temporary halt.

FAA officials said a preliminary review traced the problem to a damaged database file, but added that there was no evidence of a cyberattack and that the investigation was continuing. The same file corrupted both the main system and its backup, said people familiar with the review, who asked not to be identified.

FAA officials said they were working to “further pinpoint the causes” so the problem could be avoided in the future.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told CNN the ground stop was the “right call” to make sure messages were getting sent correctly and there was no direct evidence of cyberattack.

The White House said President Joe Biden still had confidence in Buttigieg.

Buttigieg told reporters a backup system went into effect on Tuesday, January 10, but questions were raised about the system’s performance, which led to a complete reboot of the system and then prompted the FAA to issue the ground stop around 7:30 am EST (1230 GMT). It was lifted just before 9 am EST.

An FAA advisory said the system that provides so-called Notices to Air Missions with safety messages for pilots and others failed around 3:30 pm EST on Tuesday, which meant no new messages could be processed.

The outage occurred at a typically slow time after the holiday travel season, but demand remains strong as travel continues to recover to near pre-pandemic levels.

It could affect traffic through Friday, January 13, said Captain Chris Torres, vice president of the Allied Pilots Association.

“This thing was lifted at 9 am Eastern. That doesn’t mean the problem stops at 9 am. This is going to cause ripple effects,” said Torres, whose members fly for American Airlines.

One issue airlines are facing is trying to get planes in and out of crowded gates, which is causing further delays. Crews’ time-limit rules may also be a factor.

At an airport in Greenville, South Carolina, Justin Kennedy abandoned a work trip to nearby Charlotte, North Carolina. He described confusion as airline employees and many passengers were initially unaware of the FAA’s moves and flight delays.

“I sat in a Chick-fil-A dining area that had a good view of the TSA exit,” the 30-year-old information technology employee said. “I saw at least four people sprinting to gates because they thought they were going to miss their flight, only to come back to the food court, out of breath.”

Must Read

EXPLAINER: Why US flights were grounded by an FAA system outage

EXPLAINER: Why US flights were grounded by an FAA system outage
‘Catastrophic’ failure

US airline customers have few alternatives. Driving distances are too great, and the country’s passenger rail network is thin compared with those in other countries.

The US Travel Association, which represents the travel industry including airlines, called the FAA system failure “catastrophic.”

The outage appeared to have limited impact on transatlantic routes.

US Senate commerce committee chair Maria Cantwell, a Democrat, said the panel would investigate. Republican Senator Ted Cruz called the failure “completely unacceptable.”

Shares of US carriers rebounded after the market opened as flights resumed. The S&P 500 airlines index closed up 0.9%.

An operational meltdown at Southwest at the end of last year stranded thousands.

The DOT, the FAA’s parent agency, criticized Southwest’s failures and pressured the airline to compensate passengers. Buttigieg on Wednesday rejected the suggestion the FAA should reimburse travelers for delays caused by the outage.

The FAA suffered another significant computer issue on January 2 that led to significant delays in Florida flights.

Package delivery companies FedEx, United Parcel Service, and DHL, which rely heavily on planes, said they faced minimal disruptions on Wednesday.

Separately on Wednesday afternoon, air traffic control manager NAV Canada reported an outage of about 90 minutes in a similar messaging system used in Canada, but said the issue had not caused any flight delays. The agency said it did not believe its outage was related to the FAA one, but was investigating.

Ria Malhotra, a 29-year-old resident physician from Weehawken, New Jersey, had been scheduled to fly from Newark to Las Vegas for a medical conference, but her flight was first delayed and then rescheduled. After this, she wonders how much she will fly.

“I just don’t want to deal with this process anymore because I feel like flight delays are more the norm than they are the exception to the rule,” she said. – Rappler.com

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.