The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had a big problem on its hands the morning of January 11th, and the ripple will be spreading globally. With thousands of flights being delayed or canceled as well as hundreds of flights being forced to ground earlier than expected, many worries that we had seen 9/11 again.
This time it was instead the Notices to Air Missions (NOTAMs) that went down. Providing pilots with crucial and real-time information about potential impacts on flights. From runway construction to possible icing, the system can tell pilots everything they need to know. Years ago it was telephone-based and forced pilots to call in advance. With how quickly things can change, their system has moved online over the years, providing pilots with much better information for flying.
President Biden has ordered the Department of Transportation to conduct a full investigation and told reporters “I don’t know” when asked about it being a cyber-attack. The FBI has thus far provided no comments.
While the stop order was lifted at 9 am, delays and cancellations were built, and the impacts have been felt across the globe. With most flights already operating at near full capacity, this kind of impact doesn’t just hit one or two airlines nor does it stay just inside the US. With over 21,000 domestic flights booked for the day, 4,300 were delayed and over 800 were canceled by 9:30 am. This doesn’t even factor in the 1,840 international flights on the board as well.
Thankfully, the military and medical flight systems were not impacted, so the lifeblood of the air was kept running intact. This of course meant that the President would be able to move about as needed. Accompanying his wife for a procedure at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center outside of Washington, reporters caught him again.
Asking the President about the situation, he claimed to have been briefed by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “I just spoke to Buttigieg. They don’t know what the cause is. But I was on the phone with him for about 10 minutes. I told him to report directly to me when they find out. Air traffic can still land safely, just not take off right now. We don’t know what the cause of it is.”
With delays and cancellations already beginning to make an extra mess of the day, the FAA claimed that they were working on a solution and were adjusting. Telling reporters that they had begun their final checks and would be getting things back online shortly, they also owned up to the impacts on the National Airspace System.
The NOTAMs systems having issues is not a normal thing. However, John Cox, a former airline pilot, and aviation safety expert claims it is a cause for concern. While admitting he is unsure of just how dated the current system is, he also spoke of the infrequent chatter of the system finally getting a full upgrade. “I’ve been flying 53 years. I’ve never heard the system go down like this. So, something unusual happened.”
Making changes following a failure like this won’t be easy or cheap. However, for the safety of the crew, passengers, and cargo, it would seem that it is now imperative for the safety of the American people. Considering they knew it was having problems on the 10th at 8:28 pm Eastern, they resorted to the telephone backup system but had nothing else to use for advising pilots. With the surge in air traffic since NOTAMs was invented, there were not enough lines to help.
Winter storms disrupted Southwest Airlines so much that they are still feeling the effects. While their issue was an internal problem, people ran into longer than usual lines, lost baggage, and were very irate passengers. Adding this in on top will only serve to set Southwest back and cripple the airline even worse.
Everything is fixed…or is it?