The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ordered airlines to pause all domestic departures until 09:00 Eastern Time on January 11 to allow the agency to validate the integrity of flight and safety information.
The FAA worked to fully restore the Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) hazard alert system following an outage. The NOTAM system is crucial to aviation safety and issues notices containing information essential to personnel concerned with flight operations but not known far enough in advance to be publicized by other means. Such notices could include bird hazard warnings, runway closures, low altitude construction alerts as well as equipment failures.
Thousands of flights within, into or out of the U.S. were delayed and hundreds canceled. Millions of passengers look set to be affected.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that there was no evidence a cyber attack was behind the NOTAM outage and added that the Department of Transportation will conduct a full investigation into the causes.
Departures initially resumed at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport due to increased congestion in those areas. At 08:50 ET, the FAA issued a statement to say that normal air traffic operations were resuming gradually across the country and that the ground stop had been lifted.
Addressing concerns regarding ageing infrastructure, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Rick Larsen (D-WA) told Kaitlan Collins on CNN’s This Morning that the major FAA Reauthorization bill expected this year would present an opportunity for investment. “We have an opportunity with the Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill coming up this year to examine this very question and hopefully, maybe, if we need to make some improvements, make some funding increases so that [FAA] can improve the system.”
The outage had an impact on all aviation operations across the United States and there was also a knock-on effect globally. “Any time there is a regional or national delay in the aviation transportation system, there is an immediate impact to airports, airlines, air crews, law enforcement, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and passengers,” Former Federal Security Director at Los Angeles International Airport and now Vice President of K2 Security Screening Group, Keith Jeffries told Homeland Security Today. “First and foremost, the FAA focuses on passenger safety. In my opinion, the agency did an excellent job communicating the seriousness of the outage. Promptly ordering a system wide “ground stop” ensured that the corrective measures put in place were working properly.”
Once the system outage occurred, the FAA acted quickly to notify key partners. Keith explained that the FAA has a checklist and/or a response plan for nearly every incident that could occur in the aviation space. “Unfortunately, this outage occurred on the heels of the recent holiday air travel cancellations mess, which was caused by weather challenges and an antiquated flight crew scheduling system used by one air carrier. It is critically important that the flying public maintains confidence in commercial air travel. Partnerships are the key to success in the complex aviation transportation system. Today, once the FAA notified its key partners, all of them should have activated their individual organizational or agency response plan to meet the daunting challenges caused by the FAA outage.”