A nationwide air traffic “pause” caused by the failure of a critical computer database was the result of an error by IT workers, not a cyberattack or other malicious action, according to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The FAA ordered a pause to all U.S. domestic airline departures between 7:15 a.m. and 8:50 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 11, after an outage involving the Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system. NOTAM issues alerts to aviation personnel about a variety of potential hazards, ranging from closed runways and restricted airspace to the presence of flocks of birds near airports.
A preliminary FAA review of the NOTAM outage “determined that contract personnel unintentionally deleted files while working to correct synchronization between the live primary database and a backup database.”
The investigation into the incident is ongoing, the agency said.
“The FAA made the necessary repairs to the system and has taken steps to make the NOTAM system more resilient,” according to an FAA statement released Sept. 19. “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.”
The NOTAM outage caused the first nationwide shutdown of domestic air traffic since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. An estimated 11,000 flights were affected.
NOTAM System Failure Highlights Huge Vulnerability
U.S. Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-MO) said the NOTAM system failure “highlights a huge vulnerability in our air transportation system” and said he would be “leading an oversight letter with my colleagues to make sure that we know what went wrong, who’s responsible, and how this is going to be prevented in the future.”