Wednesday,  February 8, 2023  11:45 am

Corrupted file behind FAA outage; Canada experiences similar disruption

Corrupted file behind FAA outage; Canada experiences similar disruption
Southwest Airlines delayed more than 1,700 flights on Wednesday (Jan. 11) - the most among U.S. carriers. (Miguel Ángel Sanz/Unsplash)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

A corrupted file was to blame for Wednesday’s (Jan. 11) system outage that grounded and delayed many flights across the United States.

Senior U.S. government officials (FAA) addressed the matter last night, telling media that a damaged file affected both primary and the backup systems at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which suffered a computer glitch that forced it to ground all departures nationwide while it rushed to fix the issue.

The FAA said the delays that impacted thousands of flights were caused by a problem in the Notice to Air Missions system, or NOTAM, which sends pilots real-time information that required for flying.

READ MORE: FAA systems restored after outage halts U.S. domestic flights

NOTAM alerts can span from mundane information about construction at airports to urgent hazards or malfunctioning equipment.

"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.”

The FAA noted that, at this time, “there is no evidence of a cyber attack."

Canada experiences similar outage 

Mysteriously, pilots flying in Canadian airspace encountered a similar problem with the Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system yesterday, reports say. 

As reported by CBC News, Nav Canada began experiencing issues with the NOTAM entry system Wednesday morning that left it unable to send new updates to airlines.

No flights were delayed, said Nav Canada, and the system came back online in the early afternoon.

"We continue to monitor our systems and investigate the cause," the company tweeted. 

Nav Canada said the disruption wasn't related to the U.S. system outage. Later that day, the company attributed the problem to a computer hardware failure.

Thousands of flights impacted 

The issue first surfaced in the early hours of Wednesday morning, and by roughly 9 a.m. EST., normal air traffic operations resumed across the U.S. when a ground stop was lifted.

But a domino effect of flight delays and cancellations ensued, inconveniencing thousands of air travellers.

More than 6,000 flights in the U.S. were delayed by 11 a.m. yesterday, according to flight tracker FlightAware.

Southwest Airlines, for one, delayed more than 1,700 flights Wednesday, the most among U.S. carriers. 

American Airlines and Delta Air Lines each delayed about a third of their planned flights, while 29 per cent of United Airlines' schedule was affected.

Toronto Pearson took to Twitter yesterday to acknowledge the outage.

"Given an FAA system outage, we advise all U.S.-bound passengers to check the status of their flight before heading to the airport," the airport wrote.

Air Canada told the Canadian Press on Wednesday that it is not possible to determine the extent of the delays at this point.

The airline is implementing a goodwill policy for affected customers to change their travel plans.

WestJet said six of its flights were delayed Wednesday because of the outage but none were cancelled.

Speaking to reporters at a news conference in Port Colborne, ON yesterday, Canada’s Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said he contacted his U.S. counterpart, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, about the issue.

"This was obviously a surprise. It was an unplanned interruption,'' Alghabra said. 


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