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The FAA system outage caused thousands of flight delays and cancellations

The FAA system outage caused thousands of flight delays and cancellations

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New York (CNN) – The airline industry has slowly resumed service after an outage at the Federal Aviation Administration caused thousands of delays and cancellations across the United States on Wednesday.

The FAA briefly halted all U.S. domestic flight departures Wednesday morning, lifting the ground shutdown around 9 a.m. ET after restoring a system that provides pilots with pre-flight safety warnings.

But airlines continued to delay or cancel flights due to the ongoing congestion.

As of late Wednesday afternoon, the FAA website was still showing delays on the ground at some airports.

Major US carriers, including United Airlines, Delta and American Airlines, said they had grounded flights in response to the situation. United and Delta have issued a travel denial in response to the disruption. American Airlines said its customers could rebook their flights on Wednesday and Thursday at no extra charge.

FlightAware, which tracks delays and cancellations, showed more than 9,500 flights to, from and within the United States as delayed as of 6 p.m. ET and more than 1,300 flights canceled.

Southwest, which canceled thousands of flights after Christmas following a system-wide outage, was hit hard with more than 400 flights canceled. About 10 percent of Southwest’s flights Wednesday were canceled and about half delayed as of 6 p.m. ET.

Southwest operations had resumed by mid-morning, the airline said.

“As a result of the FAA disruption, we expect some schedule adjustments to be made throughout the day,” Southwest said in a statement, encouraging passengers to check their flight status online or through the airline’s app. Southwest also has issued a refusal which allows passengers to change their flights.

American Airlines was also hit hard: Including feeder airlines that use regional planes, American said it had canceled nearly 400 flights as of midday Wednesday.

The cause of the outage is under investigation

The affected system, Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM), sends alerts to pilots to notify them of conditions that could affect the safety of their flights. It is separate from the air traffic control system that keeps planes at a safe distance from each other, but it is another critical air safety tool.

“Our preliminary work has traced the outage to a corrupted database file. There is no evidence of a cyber attack at this time,” the FAA said.

That’s what Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told CNN’s Kate Baldwin in an interview Wednesday.

“There is no direct evidence or indication of [a cyberattack] but we’re also not going to rule that out until we have a clear and better understanding of what happened,” Buttigieg said.

The 90-minute ground stop of flights in the United States on Wednesday morning was put in place out of “an abundance of caution”. Buttigieg said there were “irregularities” in the safety messages sent to pilots overnight that reflected a larger problem.

Buttigieg, who has been tough on the airlines over their personnel and technology issues over the past year, said the Transportation Department and Federal Aviation Administration would “take responsibility” for their failures.

“No, this kind of disruption shouldn’t be happening, and my main interest now that we’ve gotten through the immediate disruption of the morning is to find out exactly how this is possible and what exactly steps are needed to make sure we don’t happened again,” Buttigieg said.

Buttigieg said via Twitter on Wednesday morning that he had ordered a “follow-up process to determine root causes and recommend next steps.”

Nav Canada also reported an outage to Canada’s NOTAM system on Wednesday. The nearly three-hour outage did not affect flight operations and the cause was being investigated, the air navigation service provider said.

“At this time, we do not believe the cause is related to the FAA outage that occurred earlier today,” Nav Canada said in a statement.

Another crash in aviation

This is the second time in less than a month that frequent flyer Erin Potzebowski has had her Southwest flight canceled as part of the mass flight cancellations.

“I’ve never experienced anything like the event today and the Southwest event a few weeks ago,” said Potzebowski, who was waiting for a rescheduled flight to New Orleans at Chicago Midway International Airport on Wednesday.

“It’s common to run into weather-related issues, but I’ve never had mass cancellations that affect the entire country,” Potzebowski said.

Calls quickly came to upgrade the aviation system.

“Today’s catastrophic failure of the FAA system is a clear sign that America’s transportation network is in desperate need of significant improvements,” said Jeff Freeman, president and CEO of the American Travel Association.

“Americans deserve a comprehensive travel experience that is seamless and secure. And our nation’s economy depends on a best-in-class air transportation system.”

Investments in the agency will be examined this year by Congress when the five-year FAA Reauthorization Act signed in 2018 expires.

International impacts

International flights to the United States continued to depart from Amsterdam and Paris on Wednesday despite the situation. A spokesman for Schiphol Airport told CNN that a “workaround has been issued” and flights are still departing from Amsterdam.

Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport has no canceled flights, but delays are expected, according to the airport’s press office. Frankfurt Airport also told CNN it was not affected.

A spokesman for London’s Heathrow airport told CNN early Wednesday that they were “not aware of any canceled flights and that flights to the US have departed recently,” but there were reports from passengers of significant delays.

Shabnam Amini told CNN that she and other passengers were aboard American Airlines Flight 51 to Dallas for almost three hours at Heathrow due to an FAA outage.

She said they were informed there were delays but were still put on the plane.

Commercial airline pilots use NOTAMS for real-time information about flight hazards and restrictions. The FAA states that NOTAMS should not be relied upon as the sole source of information, so some flights may be able to meet safety requirements using other data.

Wednesday’s incident comes amid another aviation crisis. A major winter storm during the year-end holidays caused major disruptions and helped trigger the Southwest Airlines crash that affected thousands of passengers.

While Southwest’s Wednesday flight cancellations are a problem for customers, it was not as bad as what was experienced from Dec. 21 to Dec. 29, when about 16,000 flights, or nearly half the schedule, had to be canceled due to a lack of available staff .

Barry Nield, Paul P. Murphy, Betsy Cline, Livi Dougherty, Chris Isidore, Shawn Lingaas, Betsy Cline, Marnie Hunter and Stephanie Halas contributed to this story.

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