FAA lifts ground stop following NOTAM system outage that affected thousands of flights

Avatar for Skies MagazineBy Skies Magazine | January 11, 2023

Estimated reading time 5 minutes, 8 seconds.

Following an overnight outage of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system, all domestic departures were halted in the U.S. on the morning of Jan. 11. The outage ultimately affected operations across the National Airspace System, as the FAA uses NOTAMs to alert pilots about factors that could affect the flight, including closed runways, equipment outages, and other potential hazards along a flight route.

At around 6:30 a.m. Eastern Time, the FAA tweeted that “it is working to restore” its NOTAM system, and was in the process of reloading the system. The regulator issued an update on its website at 7:15 a.m. acknowledging that “some functions are beginning to come back online,” but ordered “airlines to pause all domestic departures until 9 a.m. EST to allow the agency to validate the integrity of flight and safety information.”

American Airlines aircraft taxiing
According to FlightAware, American Airlines canceled 162 flights and delayed 642 flights on the morning on Jan. 11 due to the NOTAM system outage. (Current as of 9:30 a.m. EST.) Galen Burrows Photo

Exactly one hour later, at 8:15 a.m., the FAA confirmed that departures were beginning to resume at Newark Liberty (EWR) and Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson (ATL), as traffic congestion was heaviest at those airports. The regulator also said all flights that were currently in the sky would be safe to land.

The FAA officially lifted the ground stop at 8:50 a.m., sharing that “normal air traffic operations are resuming gradually across the U.S.,” and that the next step for the regulator would be to look into the cause of the outage.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre tweeted at 7:39 a.m. that “there is no evidence of a cyberattack at this point,” but President Joe Biden had directed the U.S. Department of Transportation “to conduct a full investigation into the causes.”

The FAA published an update at 6:30 p.m., stating that its “preliminary work has traced the outage to a damaged database file.” However, the investigation is still ongoing.

A look at the abnormally sparse air traffic over the United States on Jan. 11 at 9:50 a.m. EST, shown by Flightradar24.

According to FlightAware, a U.S.-based flight tracking platform, there were a total of 7,694 delays and 1,174 cancellations within, into, or out of the U.S. on Jan. 11, as of 1 p.m. EST.

Toronto Pearson Airport issued a warning via Twitter to passengers traveling to the U.S., advising them to “check the status of their flight before heading to the airport.”

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said in a tweet that “some flights departing from Canada to the U.S. have been affected,” but Canadian domestic flights would not be impacted.

According to a report from Global News, Alghabra also shared in a statement that communication would be maintained with “our U.S. partners” to understand the cause of the outage and ensure that a similar situation does not occur in Canada.

However, at 12:38 p.m. on Jan. 11, Nav Canada reported that its Canadian NOTAM entry system was “experiencing an outage affecting newly issued NOTAMs.” The air navigation service provider said, at the time, the outage was not causing any delays.

Nearly two hours later, at 2:17 p.m., Nav Canada announced that its NOTAM system has been restored, and said it does not believe the cause was “related to the FAA outage experienced earlier today.”

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