FAA: Corrupt file caused Wednesday’s air traffic meltdown

The Federal Aviation Administration is still trying to find out exactly what caused Wednesday’s system outage that grounded all flights within the U.S.

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CNN was the first to report that the issue stemmed from a corrupt file.

FAA officials confirmed the cause, saying, “Our preliminary work has traced the outage to a damaged database file. At this time, there is no evidence of a cyberattack.”

But what they don’t know yet is whether one person caused the issue or if it was a “routine entry” into the database that caused the file to corrupt, CNN reported.

The database ran the Notice to Air Missions system or NOTAMs which tells pilots of issues on their flight paths including weather, runway closures and other temporary issues, The Associated Press reported.

The NOTAMs system had been telephone-based but transitioned to an online format years ago.

The first indication that something was wrong happened late Tuesday afternoon and into the evening and the FAA decided to reboot the system when it would not affect as much air traffic as it could during peak travel — early Wednesday morning — since it takes about 90 minutes to reboot the computers.

NOTAMs has a backup which is what the FAA used when the issues first happened.

A corrupt file was also found in the backup system, CNN reported.

While the reboot did happen and the computers started to come back, the restarting of the safety system took longer than anticipated, leading to flights that had yet to take off being temporarily delayed. Planes that had already taken to the air were guided by air traffic controllers who had paper logs of issues that could affect flights, instead of automatic computer-generated ones delivered to the cockpit, CNN reported.

A full, nationwide ground stop had not happened before Wednesday since 9/11, the AP reported.

“Periodically there have been local issues here or there, but this is pretty significant historically,” Tim Campbell, a former American Airlines air operations senior vice president and current consultant, told the AP.

An investigation into what caused the corrupted file has been started, the AP reported. The FAA said it is looking to take steps to prevent another travel disruption similar to Wednesday’s issues.

There had been concerns about the technology that the FAA uses including, but not limited to, NOTAM.

The FAA is using “old mainframe systems that are generally reliable, but they are out of date,” Campbell said.

In all, more than 1,300 flights were canceled and there were 9,000 delays by early evening on the East Coast weeks after winter weather and issues with crew-scheduling technology, combined with Christmas travel, caused dayslong issues for Southwest Airlines, according to the AP and FlightAware.

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