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More than 10,000 flights were grounded by FAA glitch. Are FAA systems just really old?

SHARE More than 10,000 flights were grounded by FAA glitch. Are FAA systems just really old?
Travelers walk as a video board shows flight delays and cancellations at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on Jan. 11, 2023.

Travelers walk as a video board shows flight delays and cancellations at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Va., Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023. A recent FAA glitch impacted 10,000 flights in the U.S.

Patrick Semansky, Associated Press

A damaged file caused more than 10,000 flight delays or cancellations on Wednesday across the U.S. The glitch wreaked havoc on Americans’ travel plans, leading some officials to question how viable the Federal Aviation System’s possibly outdated technology is.

The FAA will go up for evaluation and reauthorization from Congress this year.

What caused the FAA glitch?

The Notice to Air Missions, NOTAM, sends notifications about safety information to pilots and flight personnel, and that’s the system that broke down Wednesday. Pilots are not allowed to take off until they read through that information.

According to The Associated Press, the system was created more than 50 years ago and hasn’t made a clean transition from telephones and paper to computers.

The systems went down Tuesday around 8:28 p.m. EST, but so few flights were taking off at that time that pilots were briefed individually, and NOTAM’s computer program was rebooted. It was still not fully rebooted in the morning, causing the delays until the system could get information verified and available, per Politico.

“It’s a safety issue,” Ahmed Abdelghany, associate dean for research at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s David B. O’Maley College of Business told USA Today. ”God forbid if the pilots are not updated with abnormal conditions, it might lead to some serious problems like accidents or something like that.”

Some experts hope the incident will prompt Congress to provide more funding to modernize the systems.

“The lack of stable consistent funding when you’re on the budget appropriations cycle of the federal government, it significantly hampers the ability to conduct that kind of upgrade,” Arjun Garg, a partner at the Hogan Lovells law firm and former FAA chief counsel, told USA Today.

How are fliers being compensated for the delays and cancellations?

Although the FAA was responsible for delays or cancellations, airlines are the ones in charge of compensating customers or rescheduling their flights. Most major airlines are focusing on waiving charges for changing flights like Delta, American, Southwest and United, AP News reported.