WASHINGTON, Jan 11 (Reuters) – U.S. flights are beginning to take off slowly. All flights departing from the US were grounded as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) scrambled to fix the system outage overnight.
The cause of the problem with the pilot-alert system, which has delayed thousands of flights in the United States, is unclear, but U.S. officials said they have so far found no evidence of a cyber attack.
The outage came at a historically slow time for U.S. travel after the December holiday travel season, but airlines have said demand remains strong as travel continues to recover to pre-pandemic levels.
“Routine air traffic operations are gradually resuming across the United States following an overnight shutdown of the Air Missions Notification System that provides safety information to flight crews. The ground shutdown has been lifted. We continue to investigate the cause of the initial problem,” the FAA tweeted.
Even after the ground stop was lifted, the number of affected flights continued to rise. One problem airlines face is trying to get flights into congested gates, causing further delays.
More than 5,400 flights were delayed and 900 were canceled, according to the FlightAware website.
The FAA had earlier ordered airlines to suspend all domestic departures after its pilot warning system malfunctioned, and the company had to perform a hard reset around 2 a.m., officials said.
The FAA is expected to implement a ground delay program to address the backlog of flights that have been grounded for several hours. Aircraft already airborne were allowed to proceed to their destinations during the ground stop.
US President Joe Biden ordered the Department of Transportation to investigate the outage, and said the cause of the failure was currently unknown. Asked if a cyberattack was behind the outage, Biden told reporters at the White House, “We don’t know.”
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg promised “a process to determine root causes and recommend next steps.”
Modernization is needed
Chicago-based United said it had resumed operations, but warned customers could continue to see some delays and cancellations.
Shares of U.S. carriers fell early in premarket trading Wednesday, but most rallied after the market opened into positive territory as flights resumed.
Southwest Airlines (LUV.N) Delta Air Lines Inc. was down 0.17% (DAL.N)United Airlines (UAL.O) and American Airlines (AAL.O) increased by 1.1%, 1.5% and 0.4% respectively. Jet Blue (JBLU.O) Also received.
A trade group representing the U.S. travel industry, including airlines, called the FAA system failure “catastrophic.”
“America’s transportation network is in need of significant upgrades,” said Jeff Freeman, president of the American Travel Association, in a statement. “We call on federal policymakers to modernize our critical air travel infrastructure.”
Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell said the committee would investigate. “We will examine what caused this outage and how redundancy plays a role in preventing future outages,” he said. “The public needs a flexible air transportation system.”
The FAA’s system went down weeks after an operational meltdown at Southwest late last year left thousands of passengers stranded.
A severe winter storm before Christmas, combined with the Texas-based carrier’s dated technology, led to the cancellation of 16,000 flights last month.
The FAA’s parent agency, the DOT, criticized Southwest’s failures and pressured the airline to compensate passengers. There is no statutory requirement that the FAA compensate passengers for flight delays caused by agency computer problems.
A NOTAM is a notice that contains information that is essential to personnel related to flight operations, but not known in advance enough to publicize by other means. A ground stop is an air traffic control operation that slows or stops an aircraft at a given airport.
Information for long-haul international flights can run up to 200 pages and may include runway closures, bird warnings and construction restrictions.
United Airlines (UAL.O) It said it has temporarily delayed all domestic flights and will issue an update when it learns more from the FAA.
Germany’s Lufthansa and Air France both said they would continue to operate flights to and from the US, while the French airline said it was monitoring the situation.
Earlier this month, a problem with another airline’s computer control system delayed dozens of flights in Florida.
A total of 21,464 flights were scheduled to depart from airports in the U.S. on Wednesday with approximately 2.9 million passengers, according to data from Cirium.
American Airlines has the most departures from U.S. airports, with 4,819 flights scheduled, followed by Delta and Southwest, Cirium data shows.
LIVE: View of planes taking off from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
Reporting by Doina Siaku and David Shepherdson in Washington, Abhijit Ganapavaram in Bangalore, Jamie Freed in Sydney and Rajesh Kumar Singh in Chicago; Additional reporting by Nathan Gomes and Steve Holland in Washington, Writing by Shailesh Kubher and Alexander Smith Editing by Edmund Blair and Nick Zieminski
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