FAA: Contractors mistakenly deleted files, causing safety system disruption


The Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday that contractors working on a system that notifies pilots of potential hazards “inadvertently deleted files,” leading to nationwide flight cancellations and thousands of delays last week.

The agency said it is continuing to investigate and has updated Congress on the latest findings as lawmakers demand answers about the cause of the outage.

The system distributes bulletins called Air Mission Notices and is a mix of new technology and components that are three decades old. In its statement Thursday, the FAA said contract workers were trying to correct synchronization between a live database and a backup system when the problem began.

The system began to fail on the afternoon of January 10, and efforts to restore it failed by evening. In the early hours of January 11, the agency decided to reset the system and order a nationwide shutdown of air travel – the first of its kind since 9/11. Air traffic soon resumed, but delays continued throughout the day.

FAA system collapse causes new disruptions to US air travel

The FAA said its preliminary review found no evidence of a cyberattack or malicious intent.

The outage highlighted the outdated computer systems that aviation safety relies on. It remains unclear how the blunder could bring down the entire notification system, but the FAA said it has fixed the system and taken steps to ensure it is more resilient.

“The agency is moving quickly to adopt any other lessons learned in our efforts to ensure the continued stability of the nation’s air traffic control system,” the FAA said.

The outage came after Southwest Airlines had thousands of canceled flights in December, a problem it blamed on outdated technology.

The two incidents have heightened scrutiny of the aviation system in Congress as lawmakers prepare to craft a multiyear funding package for the FAA.

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