Home/ News / World/  Almost 9,600 US flights delayed; airlines hope for return to normal on Thursday. 10 points

The US aviation authorities were forced to temporarily ground all domestic flights across country on Wednesday due to a crucial alert system outage, triggering thousands of delays and cancellations.

A nationwide ground stop was imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) over a computer issue that forced a 90-minute halt to all US departing flights. As reported by Reuters, the total number of flights disrupted topped 10,900 and was still rising but airline officials expressed confidence that normal operations could largely return by Thursday.

Here are 10 points you need to know:

According to FlightAware, almost 9,600 flights have been delayed so far and over 1,300 canceled. Many industry officials compared the grounding to what occurred after the terror attacks on September 11, 2001.

Major carriers like Southwest Airlines Co, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines all reported 40 percent or more of flights Wednesday delayed or canceled.

As per FAA's latest update, it said, “We are continuing a thorough review to determine the root cause of the Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system outage. Our preliminary work has traced the outage to a damaged database file. At this time, there is no evidence of a cyber attack."

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told CNN the ground stop was the "right call" to make sure messages were getting sent correctly and there was no direct evidence of cyberattack. The White House said President Joe Biden still had confidence in Buttigieg. Buttigieg told reporters a backup system went into effect on Tuesday but questions were raised about the system's performance, which led to a complete reboot of the system and then prompted the FAA to issue the ground stop around 7:30 a.m. EST (1230 GMT). It was lifted just before 9 a.m. EST.

An FAA advisory said the system that provides so-called Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) with safety messages for pilots and others failed around 3:30 p.m. EST on Tuesday, which meant no new messages could be processed. NOTAM is a safety system distinct from air traffic control, which tracks plane location in order to prevent crashes. A NOTAM "is a notice containing information essential to personnel concerned with flight operations but not known far enough in advance to be publicized by other means," according to the Federal Aviation Administration website.

The outage occurred at a typically slow time after the holiday travel season, but demand remains strong as travel continues to recover to near pre-pandemic levels. It could impact traffic through Friday, said Captain Chris Torres, vice president of the Allied Pilots Association.

One issue airlines are facing is trying to get planes in and out of crowded gates, which is causing further delays. Crews' time-limit rules may also be a factor. At an airport in Greenville, South Carolina, Justin Kennedy abandoned a work trip to nearby Charlotte, North Carolina. He described confusion as airline employees and many passengers were initially unaware of the FAA's moves and flight delays.

US airline customers have few alternatives. Driving distances are too great, and the country's passenger rail network is thin compared with those in other countries.

An operational meltdown at Southwest at the end of last year stranded thousands. The DOT, FAA's parent agency, criticized Southwest's failures and pressured the airline to compensate passengers. Buttigieg on Wednesday rejected the suggestion the FAA should reimburse travelers for delays caused by the outage.

The FAA suffered another significant computer issue on Jan. 2 that led to significant delays in Florida flights. Package delivery companies FedEx, United Parcel Service and DHL, which rely heavily on planes, said they faced minimal disruptions on Wednesday. Separately on Wednesday afternoon, air traffic control manager NAV Canada reported an outage of about 90 minutes in a similar messaging system used in Canada, but said the issue had not caused any flight delays. The agency said it did not believe its outage was related to the FAA one, but was investigating.

(With inputs from agencies)

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Updated: 12 Jan 2023, 05:58 AM IST
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