US air transport services gradually coming back to life after FAA computer outage
US flights were slowly resuming departures and a ground stop was lifted after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) scrambled to fix an overnight system outage that forced all flights out of the states to stop. -United.
More than 6,000 flights have been delayed and nearly 1,000 canceled according to the FlightAware website, as officials said it would take hours to recover from the shutdown. The numbers continued to rise.
The cause of the problem with a pilot alert system, which delayed thousands of flights in the United States, was unclear, but US officials said they had so far found no evidence of a cyberattack.
The outage came at a typically slow time after the holiday season, but demand remains strong as travel continues to recover to near pre-pandemic levels.
“Normal air traffic operations are gradually resuming across the United States following an overnight outage of the Air Mission Advisory System that provides safety information to flight crews. The ground shutdown has been lifted. We continue to investigate the cause of the original problem,” the FAA tweeted.
Update 5: Normal air traffic operations are gradually resuming across the United States after an overnight outage of the Air Mission Notification System that provides safety information to flight crews. The ground stop has been lifted.
We continue to investigate the cause of the original problem
— The FAA (@FAANews) January 11, 2023
The number of affected flights increased even after the cancellation of the ground stop. One of the problems airlines face is trying to get planes in and out of crowded gates, which leads to further delays.
At an airport in Greenville, South Carolina, Justin Kennedy ditched a work trip to nearby Charlotte. He said confusion reigned as airline employees were unaware of what the FAA was saying and many passengers were initially unaware of the delays.
“I sat in a Chick-fil-A dining room that had a good view of the TSA exit,” the 30-year-old information technology worker said. “I saw at least four people running for the gates because they thought they were going to miss their flight, only to get back to the food court, out of breath.”
Captain Chris Torres, vice president of the Allied Pilots Association, said the outage could impact traffic through Friday.
“This thing was lifted at 9:00 a.m. EST (7:30 p.m. IST). That doesn’t mean the problem ends at 9:00 a.m. It’s going to cause ripple effects,” said Torres, whose members fly for American Airlines. “The end result will be very similar to major weather events.”
The FAA previously ordered airlines to suspend all domestic departures after its pilot alert system crashed and the agency had to perform a hard reset around 2 a.m. (12:30 a.m. IST), officials said. Flights already airborne were allowed to continue to their destinations.
US President Joe Biden ordered the Department of Transportation to investigate and said the cause of the failure was unknown. When asked if a cyberattack was behind the outage, Biden told reporters, “We don’t know.”
Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg promised a “process to determine root causes and recommend next steps”.
Shares of U.S. carriers initially fell in Wednesday’s premarket trading, but most rebounded after the market opened in positive territory as flights resumed.
After falling more than 19% last year – its third consecutive year of decline – the S&P 500 airline index is off to a strong start this year, up 15.5%, as travelers return to the sky.
Shares of Southwest Airlines were flat, while shares of Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and American Airlines rose. JetBlue and Spirit each rose about 2%.
A trade group representing the US travel industry, including airlines, called the failure of the FAA system “catastrophic”.
“The U.S. transportation system is in desperate need of significant improvements,” Geoff Freeman, president of the U.S. Travel Association, said in a statement. “We call on federal policymakers to modernize our vital air transportation infrastructure.”
For American travelers traveling long distances, alternatives are few. Driving distances are too great and the country’s passenger rail network is thin compared to those in Europe and Asia.
Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell, a Democrat, said the panel would investigate. “We’ll look at what caused this outage and how redundancy plays a role in preventing future outages,” she said.
Republican Senator Ted Cruz called the failure “completely unacceptable” and said the issue should lead to reforms as part of the FAA’s reauthorization scheduled for September.
The FAA system outage comes weeks after an operational meltdown in Southwest late last year left thousands stranded. A severe winter storm just before Christmas, coupled with the Texas-based carrier’s outdated technology, led to more than 16,000 flight cancellations.
The DOT, the FAA’s parent agency, criticized Southwest’s failures and pressured the airline to compensate passengers. There is no legal requirement that the FAA must compensate passengers for flight delays caused by agency computer problems.
The FAA suffered another significant computer issue on Jan. 2 that caused major flight delays in Florida. A problem with the operation of a system known as En-route Automation Modernization (ERAM) used to control air traffic prompted the FAA to issue a ground-stop order, slowing traffic to airports from Florida.
A NOTAM is a notice containing information essential to personnel involved in flight operations but not sufficiently known in advance to be made public by other means. A ground stop is an air traffic control measure that slows or stops aircraft at a given airport.
A total of 21,464 US flights were scheduled to take off on Wednesday with a capacity of nearly 2.9 million passengers, according to Cirium data.
Rodney Allen was on his way with friends to vacation in Puerto Rico from Cincinnati but got stranded in Newark.
“Once we landed, the passengers on the plane were saying the flights were grounded,” the 25-year-old entrepreneur said. He still had the option of checking in for his flight to Puerto Rico, but his friends had been offered travel credits.
© Thomson Reuters 2023