Explainer: The FAA outage caused U.S. flight cancellations

Some flights were allowed to resume following an outage in the pilot alert system. The civil aviation regulator had previously grounded all American aircraft.

As of Wednesday morning, more than 4,000 flights had been delayed or canceled due to the outage. As a result of the ground stop, U.S. airlines were gradually able to resume flights.

This brief overview will explain what pilot warning systems do, how we know what went wrong, and what background information is available about safety notices given to pilots (known as NOTAM).

Officials stated that the FAA system, which is supposed to send pilots notices about hazards, crashed at 2 AM Eastern Time.

While it was testing whether crews were able to bring the system back up and restore it, the FAA ordered all domestic flights to be halted until 9:00 Eastern Time.

According to the White House, President Joe Biden was briefed by Pete Buttigieg (Secretary of Transportation) about the outage. In a tweet, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stated that there is no evidence of a cyberattack. She said that the U.S. Department of Transportation was conducting an investigation.

This system, which failed Wednesday, is part of an almost century-old tradition known as Notices To Airmen. It was originally designed on the system for notices that mariners.

This system was renamed “Notices to Aerial Missions” in 2021 to warn pilots of any dangers, including birds, snow, and volcanic ash near airports.

You will also find information about closed runways as well as temporary air restrictions.

Notams are sent out by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration as part of a worldwide safety system that is managed by the United Nations aviation agency.

Before taking off, pilots must review any notices printed on paper, or electronically, prior to takeoff.

For long-haul flights, the information can be as many as 200 pages.

Notams can be written using an encoded form of shorthand, originally intended to improve communication.

U.N. Civil Aviation Organization has led an effort to reform the system. This allowed pilots and airlines to easily filter important warnings and present them in clearer terms.

A July 2017 Air Canada plane landed wrongly at San Francisco Airport’s runway and collided with four others.

Pilots missed the notice about the closing of one runway at the airport. It had been noted in the PRE-Flight NOTAM (page eight) of the 27-page briefing.

This incident and the excessive amount of information that the system allows pilots to complain about prompted efforts to improve the operation.

Robert Sumwalt, Chairman of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said that (NOTAMs), are “just a bunch of garbage that nobody pays any attention to” at a 2018 hearing about the Air Canada accident. This statement helped to launch a worldwide campaign for reform.

In recent years, FAA officials were involved in modernizing the system.


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