U.S. Flights Were Grounded Because Of One Man’s Mistake, Official Says
Air flight schedule
Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

An engineer has been blamed for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) NOTAM system crash that halted all domestic airplane departures Wednesday morning, according to a new report.

A senior FAA official told ABC News Thursday that systems monitoring of the NOTAM system was at an urgently high level as a result of Wednesday’s debacle.

An engineer “replaced one file with another” during a routine scheduled systems maintenance effort on Wednesday morning, the official said, adding that the engineer was unaware of the mistake.

The FAA official also noted that Canada’s NOTAM system was disrupted Wednesday, although it remains unclear as to whether the problem was linked to the American failure. Canada was not forced to ground its flights and the official said Canada’s system is more modern.

The flight delays caused by the NOTAM failure on Wednesday lasted into Thursday. Over 600 flights within, into, or out of the U.S. were delayed and more than 80 were canceled on Thursday morning, The Wall Street Journal reported.

An industry collective called the OPSGROUP has been criticizing NOTAMS for years. “We communicate the most critical flight information, using a system invented in 1920, with a format unchanged since 1924, burying essential information that will lose a pilot their job, an airline their aircraft, and passengers their lives, in a mountain of unreadable, irrelevant bulls***,” a 2017 blog post from the group said.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which is funded and directed by 193 national governments to support their diplomacy and cooperation in air transport, noted the vast amounts of notices and coordination required to make air traffic flow go smoothly in in 2021.

“On any given day, there are some 35,000 active NOTAM circulating in the global air transport system. In 2020, the total number of NOTAM issued exceeded 1.7 million. … It is not uncommon for a pre-flight briefing package supporting a long-haul international flight to contain more than 100 pages of NOTAM information. Findings have shown that twenty percent of these will be old NOTAM, exceeding their three-month applicability period,” the group wrote.

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