Following an overnight outage of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Notice to Air Missions system, or NOTAM, which sends safety information to flight crews, thousands of flights were delayed across the nation on Wednesday.
More than 4,000 aircraft on Wednesday morning faced delays, according to flight tracking service FlightAware.
What you need to know about the FAA computer outage
- Normal air traffic operations were slowly resuming across the United States on Wednesday, the Federal Aviation Administration said, after an overnight computer outage grounded thousands of flights.
- The FAA said its Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system, which contains information essential to workers involved in flight operation, had “failed.”
- The White House said there was no evidence the outage was the result of a cyberattack, although President Joe Biden had instructed the Department of Transportation to do a “full investigation” into the cause.
- About 5,417 flights within, to and out of the U.S. were delayed as of around 10:17 a.m. ET Wednesday, according to the online flight tracker FlightAware. It added that 924.
FAA outage was a ‘catastrophic system failure,’ U.S. Travel Association CEO says
Wednesday’s FAA computer outage was a “catastrophic system failure” and “a clear sign that America’s transportation network desperately needs significant upgrades,” according to the head of the U.S. Travel Association.
“Americans deserve an end-to-end travel experience that is seamless and secure. And our nation’s economy depends on a best-in-class air travel system,” said Geoff Freeman, the president and CEO of the nonprofit and advocacy group representing more than 1,100 member organizations in the travel industry.
“We call on federal policymakers to modernize our vital air travel infrastructure to ensure our systems are able to meet demand safely and efficiently,” he added in a statement.
Senior law enforcement official: No evidence of cyberattack
A senior law enforcement official told NBC News that the FBI has seen no evidence that a cyberattack caused the computer outage that grounded thousands of flights.
Cyber security experts say the most common cause of problems like the one Wednesday is a bad software update.
What is NOTAM, the system that had an outage causing a nationwide flight fiasco
Most people will never have heard of “NOTAM,” but it is the reason thousands of travelers were stuck in airports or stewing over delayed or canceled flights Wednesday.
The acronym stands for “Notice to Air Missions,” and refers to the computer system that distributes “information essential to personnel concerned with flight operations but not known far enough in advance to be publicized by other means,” according to a webpage on the Federal Aviation Administration website. (The page was no longer accessible shortly after 9:30 a.m. ET.)
The notices flag abnormalities such as “runways being closed for maintenance, ground stations being out, construction cranes that may be in the proximity of a runway,” NBC aviation analyst Capt. John Cox said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
The notices are written in a specific format with “a unique language characterized by the use of specialized contractions” standardized by the International Civil Aviation Organization, according to the FAA. To the untrained eye, the notices look like a random series of letters and numbers.
“It’s a pretty extensive list that the crews get just before departure,” Cox said. “For this NOTAM system to be out — I don’t ever remember it failing before, and I’ve been flying 53 years, so it really is unusual.”