Corrupted NOTAM Database File Caused Grounded Flights

Corrupted file to blame for FAA aviation stoppage that delayed thousands of flights

Flights across the U.S. resumed Wednesday morning, several hours after the Federal Aviation Administration suffered a computer outage that forced it to halt all departures nationwide while it scrambled to resolve the issue.

The FAA said the crippling delays that affected thousands of flights appear to have been caused by a problem in the Notice to Air Missions system, or NOTAM, which sends pilots vital information they need to fly.

A corrupted file affected both the primary and the backup systems, a senior government official said Wednesday evening, adding that officials continue to investigate.

“The FAA is continuing a thorough review to determine the root cause of the Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system outage,” the agency said in a statement. “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 said Wednesday evening that the FAA will further pinpoint the source and identify steps to prevent it from happening again, and he echoed the agency in saying there is no evidence of a cyber attack.

“One of the questions we need to look at right now, and one of the things I’m asking from FAA, is what’s the state of the art in this form of message traffic?” Buttigieg told NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell earlier Wednesday. “And again, how is it possible for there to be this level of disruption?”

NPR News | January 20, 2023 6:16 PM ET

Grounded flights were the result of employees deleting critical files, FAA says

The Federal Aviation Administration now says contract employees inadvertently deleted critical files, causing the computer outage last week that grounded air traffic nationwide.

The FAA says its review of last week’s system outage determined that contract personnel unintentionally deleted files while trying to fix problems with the database. In a statement, the agency says it has found no evidence of a cyberattack or malicious intent, adding that the FAA made the necessary repairs to the system and has taken steps to make the NOTAM system more resilient. NOTAM stands for Notices To Air Missions. They’re critical messages alerting pilots to potential hazards along their flight path. The system failure led the FAA to impose a ground stop on all departing flights last Wednesday morning. It was the first nationwide ground stop since September 11, 2001. And even though it lasted about 90 minutes, the incident forced airlines to cancel more than 1,300 flights that day and delayed more than 11,000 more. And many in the aviation industry say the computer failure highlights how much of the FAA’s infrastructure is overtaxed and out of date.

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