FAA says NOTAM system outage due to ‘unintentionally deleted files’

By Dayna Fedy-MacDonald | January 20, 2023

Estimated reading time 4 minutes, 20 seconds.

In a statement published on Jan. 19, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said a preliminary review of its Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system outage that occurred on Jan. 11 showed that contract workers had “unintentionally deleted files” while trying to “correct synchronization between the live primary database and a backup database.”

However, the regulator noted that its investigation surrounding the outage is still ongoing. The FAA said, so far, no evidence of a cyber-attack has been found.

The NOTAM system outage caused thousands of flight delays and cancelations on Jan. 11, as the FAA halted all U.S. domestic departures at around 6:30 a.m. Eastern Time.

Southwest 737 Max 8 landing
According to FlightAware, there were a total of 7,694 delays and 1,174 cancellations within, into, or out of the U.S. as of 1 p.m. EST on Jan. 11. Patrick Cardinal Photo

NOTAMs are important as they are used to alert pilots about factors that could affect the flight, such as closed runways, equipment outages, and other potential hazards along a flight route.

The FAA spent the morning working to restore its NOTAM system, and the ground stop was officially lifted by 8:50 a.m. EST — at which point normal air traffic operations began to resume.

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. as of 1 p.m. EST on Jan. 11.

While the FAA said in its most recent statement that it has “made the necessary repairs to the system,” it acknowledged that it has also “taken steps to make the NOTAM system more resilient.”

Interestingly, north of the border, Nav Canada experienced its own NOTAM system outage on the same day as the FAA’s outage. Just after noon on Jan. 11, Nav Canada tweeted that its 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. In fact, the FAA’s NOTAM system outage appeared to have a greater impact on Canadian flights.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said in a tweet on Jan. 11 that “some flights departing from Canada to the U.S. have been affected” as a result of the FAA’s ground stop.

Nav Canada managed to restore its NOTAM system by around 2 p.m. EST, and stated that it did not believe the cause was “related to the FAA outage experienced earlier today.” However, the timing was curious.

An investigation into the cause of Nav Canada’s outage is ongoing, but the air navigation service provider said it believes a computer hardware failure was responsible, and there are no signs pointing to a cyber-attack, according to a CBC report.

At press time, Nav Canada had not shared any further updates regarding the incident.

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