US airports bounce back to life after FAA computer crash

WASHINGTON, Jan 11 (Reuters) – U.S. flights are beginning to take off slowly. All flights departing from the US were grounded as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) scrambled to fix the system outage overnight.

The cause of the problem, which delayed thousands of flights in the United States, was unclear, but US officials said they had so far found no evidence of a cyber attack.

“Regular air traffic operations are gradually resuming across the United States following an overnight shutdown of the notification system for air travel that provides safety information to flight crews. The ground shutdown has been lifted. We continue to investigate the cause of the initial problem,” the FAA said in a tweet.

More than 4,300 flights were delayed and 700 were canceled as it took hours to recover from the grounding, officials said.

The FAA had earlier ordered airlines to suspend all domestic departures after its pilot warning system malfunctioned, and the company had to perform a hard reset around 2 a.m., officials said.

Departures at Newark and Atlanta airports will resume at 8:30 a.m., the FAA said.

The FAA is expected to implement a ground delay program to address the backlog of flights that have been grounded for several hours. Aircraft already airborne were allowed to proceed to their destinations during the ground stop.

US President Joe Biden ordered the Department of Transportation to investigate the outage, and said the cause of the failure was currently unknown. Asked if a cyberattack was behind the outage, Biden told reporters at the White House, “We don’t know.”

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Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg promised “a post-action process to determine root causes and recommend next steps.”

The FAA said it is working to restore a notice to airlines warning of risks to pilots and changes in airport facilities and procedures that have stopped processing updated information.

Flight tracking website FlightAware showed a total of 4,314 US flights were delayed as of 9:04 a.m. ET. Another 737 were cancelled.

Modernization is needed

United said it has resumed operations. However, the Chicago-based carrier warned that customers may continue to see some delays and cancellations.

Shares of U.S. carriers fell in premarket trading on Wednesday. Southwest Airlines (LUV.N) Delta Air Lines Inc. fell 2.4% (DAL.N)United Airlines (UAL.O) and American Airlines (AAL.O) Down about 1%.

“America’s transportation network is in need of significant upgrades…we call on federal policymakers to modernize our critical air travel infrastructure.” said Jeff Freeman, president and CEO of the American Travel Association, a group representing U.S. airlines, hotels, car rental companies and theme parks.

The FAA’s system went down weeks after an operational meltdown at Southwest late last year left thousands of passengers stranded.

A severe winter storm before Christmas led to the cancellation of 16,000 flights last month, along with the Texas-based carrier’s dated technology.

The FAA’s parent agency, the DOT, has sharply criticized Southwest’s failures and pressured the airline to compensate passengers for missed flights and other related expenses. There is no statutory requirement that the FAA compensate passengers for flight delays caused by agency computer problems.

Essential information

A NOTAM is an announcement that contains information essential to personnel related to flight operations, but not sufficiently known in advance to be publicized by other means.

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Information for long-haul international flights can run up to 200 pages and may include runway closures, bird warnings and construction restrictions.

United Airlines (UAL.O) It said it has temporarily delayed all domestic flights and will issue an update when it learns more from the FAA.

Germany’s Lufthansa and Air France both said they would continue to operate flights to and from the US, while the French airline said it was monitoring the situation.

The operator of Paris’ international airports – Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport and Orly Airport – expects flight delays.

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport said on Twitter that ground stops were causing delays across the country. A ground stop is an air traffic control operation that slows or stops an aircraft at a given airport.

In an earlier advisory on its website, the FAA said its NOTAM system had “failed,” although NOTAMs issued before the outage were still viewable. Earlier this month, a problem with another airline’s computer control system delayed dozens of flights in Florida.

A total of 21,464 flights were scheduled to depart from airports in the United States on Wednesday, carrying nearly 2.9 million passengers, data from Cirium showed.

American Airlines has the most departures from U.S. airports, with 4,819 flights scheduled, followed by Delta and Southwest, Cirium data shows.

Reporting by Doina Siaku and David Shepherdson in Washington, Abhijit Ganapavaram in Bangalore, Jamie Freed in Sydney and Rajesh Kumar Singh in Chicago; Additional reporting by Nathan Gomes and Steve Holland in Washington, Writing by Shailesh Kubher and Alexander Smith Editing by Edmund Blair and Nick Zieminski

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Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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