One Day After the U.S. Outage There Are Few Airline Delays and Cancellations
By TheNevadaGlobeStaff, January 12, 2023 10:54 am
RENO, Nev. (775 Times, NV Globe) – Flight delays and cancellations were minor across the United States on Thursday, a day after a system that provides safety information to pilots failed, suspending US air traffic and leaving thousands of passengers stranded.
According to the flight-tracking website FlightAware, there were 636 delays into, within, or out of the United States as of Thursday morning. There were a total of 82 cancellations.
The Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday that early findings “traced the outage to a corrupted database file,” and that it will take precautions to avoid a similar interruption in the future.
The breakdown revealed just how reliant American aviation is on the computer system that creates NOTAMs, or Notices to Air Missions.
Pilots and airline dispatchers must study the alerts before to takeoff as they contain information regarding inclement weather, runway closures, and other transient circumstances that can impact the flight. The system was formerly telephone-based but has since switched online.
The system malfunctioned late on Tuesday, and it wasn’t rectified until Wednesday morning. According to FlightAware, more than 1,300 flights were cancelled and 9,000 were delayed by early Wednesday evening on the East Coast after the FAA took the unusual step of temporarily banning all flights.
During a press conference, Pete Buttigieg, the secretary of transportation, stated that the issues “led to a ground halt due to the way safety information was going through the system.”
He cautioned that even after the problems were addressed, some impacts could still be “rippling across the system.”
Buttigieg said his organization will now endeavor to discover why the system fell down.
Longtime aviation insiders could not recall an outage of such size caused by a technical breakdown. Some contrasted its scale to that of the countrywide closure of airspace following the terrorist strikes of 2001.
“Periodically there have been local issues here or there, but this is pretty significant historically,” said Tim Campbell, a former senior vice president of air operations at American Airlines and now a consultant in Minneapolis.
Not only the NOTAM system, according to Campbell, but all of the FAA’s technology has long been a source of worry.
Many of such systems “are outdated mainframe systems that are normally dependable,” he noted.
John Cox, a retired airline pilot and aviation safety specialist, said the aviation industry has talked for years about attempting to upgrade the NOTAM system, but he did not know the age of the servers that the FAA uses.
“I’ve been flying 53 years. I’ve never heard the system go down like this,” Cox said. “So something unusual happened.”
The FAA issued warnings stating that the NOTAM system failed around 8:28 p.m. Tuesday, blocking the distribution of fresh or updated alerts to pilots. The FAA used a phone hotline to maintain departures overnight, but as morning flight traffic increased, the phone system became overloaded.
Early on Wednesday, the FAA issued a halt order for all outgoing planes, impacting both passenger and cargo flights. The interruption had little impact on military activities, and some medical planes were able to get permission.
President Joe Biden said that Buttigieg briefed him.
The ground stop, said to Buttigieg, demonstrated that “safety is going to be our North Star, as it always has been.”
“We are now pivoting to focus on understanding the causes of the issue,” he said.
Since years, pilots and safety authorities have complained about NOTAMs, claiming that there are too many of them, some of which are needless, and that others are written in obscure acronyms.
In its examination into a near-disaster that occurred in San Francisco in 2017, the National Transportation Safety Board brought attention to the many notices. The pilots of an Air Canada flight almost made an error landing on a parallel taxiway after failing to notice a NOTAM indicating a blocked runway. Just the tops of four other airplanes waiting to take off were skimmed by them.
The blocked runway was indicated on the eighth of 27 pages of warnings for the San Francisco airport, according to Robert Sumwalt, the head of the safety board at the time. The entry was also worded in an obscure manner.
“That’s what NOTAMs are. They are a bunch of garbage that no one pays any attention to,” he said.
In a report from 2020, the FAA said that it had changed the way the notices were distributed by using a standardized digital format, which would be finished in July of that year.
Passengers hurried to reschedule vacations as the depth of Wednesday’s failure became apparent and airlines continued to postpone flights. Many claimed it was difficult to determine how long the delays would persist.
“There is just a lot of frustration, a lot of confusion,” said Ryan Ososki, who was trying to fly from Washington, D.C., to California for a conference.
Julia Macpherson was aboard a United aircraft from Sydney to Los Angeles when she learnt of anticipated delays.
“As I was up in the air, I got news from my friend who was also traveling overseas that there was a power outage,” said Macpherson, who was returning to Jacksonville, Florida, from Tasmania.
Similar occurrences were reported by travelers at airports in Chicago, Atlanta, and other cities.
Flights from Europe to the United States seemed to be mostly unaffected.
The strong winter storm and a flaw in Southwest Airlines’ crew-scheduling technology over the Christmas holiday caused an even greater number of daily flight cancellations, which was the latest hardship for American travelers.
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