FAA Reveals More Details On System Outage That Grounded Flights Nationwide
United Airlines planes sit on the runway at Newark Liberty International Airport on November 30, 2021 in Newark, New Jersey.
Spencer Platt via Getty Images

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced on Thursday evening that the system outage that grounded flights nationwide last week was caused by contractors unintentionally deleting files.

All flights across the United States were grounded early on January 11 as the FAA’s Notice to Air Missions system unexpectedly failed, producing backlash against the agency and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Officials determined that “contract personnel unintentionally deleted files while working to correct synchronization between the live primary database and a backup database,” according to a statement from the FAA.

“The agency has so far found no evidence of a cyber-attack or malicious intent. The FAA continues to investigate the circumstances surrounding the outage,” the statement continued. “The FAA made the necessary repairs to the system and has taken steps to make the NOTAM system more resilient. The agency is acting quickly to adopt any other lessons learned in our efforts to ensure the continuing robustness of the nation’s air traffic control system.”

Officials had announced on the evening of January 11 that they would begin a “thorough review” to determine the cause of the outage but shared that there was “no evidence of a cyber attack.”

The outages last week led to several hundred cancellations and thousands of delays in a blow to the airline industry and countless individual travelers. A statement from U.S. Travel Association CEO Geoff Freeman exhorted lawmakers to modernize the nation’s infrastructure.

“Today’s FAA catastrophic system failure is a clear sign that America’s transportation network desperately needs significant upgrades,” he remarked. “Americans deserve an end-to-end travel experience that is seamless and secure. And our nation’s economy depends on a best-in-class air travel system. We call on federal policymakers to modernize our vital air travel infrastructure to ensure our systems are able to meet demand safely and efficiently.”

The disruptions occurred shortly after severe winter weather prompted nationwide delays and cancellations for Southwest Airlines during the hectic Christmas travel season. The company nixed some 16,700 flights between December 21 and December 31, according to a filing submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which indicated that total losses from the fallout are expected to cost the firm between $725 million and $825 million.

Democratic lawmakers criticized Buttigieg for his alleged failure to prevent mass delays and cancellations at Southwest Airlines. Commentators have argued that the former presidential candidate was hired by the Biden administration because of his identification as a homosexual rather than his expertise in infrastructure policy.

The official previously took months of paid leave after he and his husband adopted twins even as a supply chain crisis hamstrung the economy. He was also caught vacationing in Portugal as the possibility of a nationwide rail strike loomed last year and reportedly used taxpayer-funded private jets at least 18 times since assuming office, despite his support for policies that seek to address climate change on a national level.

The FAA also received criticism after a variety of diversity initiatives resurfaced online, showing that top regulators had spent hours implementing inclusive terminology reforms. The agency hosted an online “inclusive language summit” in November 2021 that lasted for more than two hours, while a similar event in March 2022 lasted for over an hour.

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