United States The Federal Aviation Administration is suspending all departing flights across the country starting early this morning and continuing until 9 a.m. ET. The grounding – the first in the US since the September 11, 2001 attacks – has delayed thousands of flights and created a cascade of further delays and cancellations. People familiar with the FAA’s systems say the outage is unprecedented — but years of frustration are finally coming to an end as the agency works to move its complex processes to the cloud.
The situation was caused by an unprecedented outage in a critical system the FAA uses to distribute real-time data and warnings to pilots. The system, known as NOTAM Alert, or Notification of Air Tasks, is critical to information sharing and coordinating the many basic logistics of flying safely.
According to the FAA, the flight suspension was in effect “to allow the agency to verify the integrity of the flight and safety information.” The agency said it was unclear what caused the NOTAM outage.White House Say This morning, there was no evidence the system outage was caused by a cyber attack, but it directed the Department of Transport to conduct a thorough investigation into the cause of the incident.
“This event today is more important than a hurricane making landfall in the United States, more important than a blizzard closing airports,” Michael McCormick, an assistant professor at Embry-Riddle University’s School of Aviation, told reporters at a news conference after the event. “This has a systemic effect on the entire country.”
NAV Canada, a not-for-profit corporation that is the Canadian counterpart to the FAA, said today that it, too, experienced its own short-lived NOTAM system outage. Brian Boudreau, a spokesman for the company, said it was investigating the “root cause of the failure” but did not believe the issue was related to earlier troubles with the FAA.
The NOTAM system is decades old and has been widely criticized by pilots as cumbersome and inefficient. NOTAM alerts can be tens or even hundreds of pages long and are written in a coded parallel language that has been developed over the years using a variety of technologies, including Morse code, the telegraph and the radio navigation system Loran-C .
NOTAMs often consist of repeating the same alert multiple times along with unnecessary details that are automatically populated into the system for weeks or months on end. An illegible NOTAM may have been the cause of a 2017 incident in which an Air Canada plane nearly collided with four different planes while landing on a San Francisco runway, a federal investigation has found.
“The way they’re written in weird, hard-to-read code can definitely be improved,” said a pilot for a major commercial airline, who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak to the media. “If you look at your postings, there are sometimes 80 NOTAMs and you have to go through the dates and times to make sure they still apply.”
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