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Little affected flights in the US after a day of chaos

Passenger jets sit on the runway at Logan International Airport in Boston on Jan. 11, 2023. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Passenger jets sit on the runway at Logan International Airport in Boston on Jan. 11, 2023. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Flight delays and cancellations in the United States were minimal on Thursday, a day after a system that provides crucial information to pilots failed, leaving thousands of travelers stranded.

According to the FlightAware flight tracking website, there were 636 delays to, within or outside of the United States as of Thursday morning. There were also 82 cancellations.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said Wednesday that preliminary indications “trace the outage to a damaged database file.” The agency said it would take steps to prevent another such failure.

This showed how reliant US air travel is on the computer system that generates NOTAM notices (Notice to Air Missions).

Before an aircraft takes off, pilots and airline dispatchers must review NOTAM notices, which include details about bad weather, runway closures, or other temporary factors that could affect flight. Before, the system worked over the phone, but it moved to the internet years ago.

The system broke down on Tuesday night and was fixed until Wednesday at noon. The FAA grounded planes for a few hours Wednesday morning, leading to more than 1,300 flight cancellations and 9,000 delays by early Wednesday on the East Coast, according to FlightAware.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said his agency will try to find out why the system stopped working.

Experts do not remember an interruption of this magnitude caused by a technological failure. Some compared it to the national closure of airspace after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

“Periodically, there have been local issues here or there, but this is quite historically significant,” said Tim Campbell, a former vice president of air operations for American Airlines and now a consultant in Minneapolis.

Campbell said there have long been concerns about FAA technology, and not just the NOTAM system. Many of those systems “are generally reliable, but they are outdated,” he noted.

John Cox, a former pilot, said the aviation industry has talked for years about trying to modernize the NOTAM system, but he didn’t know how old the servers the FAA uses.

According to the FAA, the NOTAM system failed at 8:28 p.m. Tuesday, and a hotline had to be called in to maintain departures overnight, but when air traffic picked up in the morning, the phone system collapsed. .

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Koenig reported from Dallas; Zeke Miller and Tara Copp in Washington, Kelvin Chan in London, Tom Krisher in Detroit and Freida Frisaro in Miami.

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