US air travel comes back to life after FAA computer crash

WASHINGTON/CHICAGO, Jan 11 (Reuters) – U.S. flights have begun to slow takeoffs. All flights departing from the United States were grounded after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) scrambled to fix a system outage overnight.

More than 6,000 flights were delayed and nearly 1,000 were canceled, according to the FlightAware website. The number was still rising.

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 occurred at a typically slow time after the holiday travel season, but 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 cancellation of the ground stop, the number of affected flights increased. One problem airlines face is trying to get flights into congested gates, causing further delays.

At the airport in Greenville, South Carolina, Justin Kennedy abandoned a work trip to nearby Charlotte. He said there was confusion because flight attendants didn’t know what the FAA was saying, and many passengers were initially unaware of the delay.

“I sat in the Chick-fil-A dining area, which has a good view of the TSA exit,” said the 30-year-old IT worker. .”

Ripple effects

Capt. Chris Torres, vice president of the Allied Pilots Association, said the outage will affect traffic through Friday.

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“This thing was lifted at 9 a.m. Eastern. That doesn’t mean the problem will stop at 9 a.m. It’s going to have ripple effects,” said Torres, who flies members for American Airlines. “The end result will be very similar to large weather events.”

The FAA had earlier ordered airlines to suspend all domestic departures after its pilot warning system malfunctioned, forcing the company to perform a hard reset around 2 a.m., officials said. Aircraft already in the air were allowed to proceed to their destinations.

US President Joe Biden ordered a Department of Transportation investigation and said the cause of the failure was unknown. Asked if a cyberattack was behind the outage, Biden told reporters, “We don’t know.”

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg promised a “process to determine root causes and recommend next steps.”

Shares of U.S. carriers fell early in premarket trading Wednesday, but most rallied after the market opened into positive territory as flights resumed.

After falling 19% last year — its third straight year of decline — the S&P 500 Airlines Index (.SPLRCAIR) It’s off to a strong start this year, up 15.5% as passengers return to the skies.

Southwest Airlines (LUV.N) Delta Air Lines Inc. Stocks were steady (DAL.N)United Airlines (UAL.O) and American Airlines (AAL.O) Stocks soared. Jet Blue (JBLU.O) and spirit (SAVE.N) Each rose about 2%.

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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.”

‘Totally unacceptable’

For long-haul American travelers, there are few alternatives. Driving distances are long, and the country’s commuter rail network is thin compared to Europe and Asia.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell, a Democrat, said the committee would investigate. “We will investigate what caused this outage and how redundancy can play a role in preventing future outages,” he said.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz called the failure “absolutely unacceptable” and said the issue would lead to reforms as part of FAA reauthorization by September.

The FAA’s system went down just weeks after an operational meltdown at Southwest left thousands stranded late last year. A severe winter storm before Christmas combined with the Texas-based carrier’s dated technology led to the cancellation of 16,000 flights.

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.

The FAA experienced another significant computer problem on January 2, which led to significant delays in Florida flights. An operational problem with the En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) system used to control air traffic prompted the FAA to issue a ground stop order, slowing traffic into Florida airports.

A NOTAM is a notice containing information essential to personnel related to flight operations, but not sufficiently known in advance to be publicized by other means. A ground stop is an air traffic control operation that slows or stops an aircraft at a given airport.

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A total of 21,464 U.S. flights carrying about 2.9 million passengers were scheduled to depart on Wednesday, data from Cirium showed.

Rodney Allen was on his way from Cincinnati to Puerto Rico on vacation with friends, but got stuck in Newark.

“As soon as we landed, the passengers on board said that the planes had been grounded,” said the 25-year-old entrepreneur. He still had the option of checking in on his flight to Puerto Rico, but his friends were given travel credits.

Reporting by Doina Siaku and David Shepherdson in Washington, Abhijit Ganabavaram in Bangalore, Jamie Freed in Sydney and Rajesh Kumar Singh in Chicago; Additional reporting by Nathan Gomes and Priyamwata C in Bangalore, Alison Lambert in Montreal, Toinsola Oladipo in New Jersey, Sinead Carew in New York and Steve Holland in Washington; Additional reporting by Shailesh Kuber and Alexander Smith; Editing by Edmund Blair and N.

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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