An error in a Notice to Air Missions system, which grounded flights across the USA earlier this week, was caused by a damaged database file, the Federal Aviation Administration has said.
First called a ‘glitch’, the error in the NOTAM system, which alerts pilots of potential hazards along a flight route, grounded more than 13,400 flights on Wednesday, with more than 2,300 cancelled entirely.
In a statement, the FAA said it is ‘continuing a thorough review to determine the root cause of the Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system outage. Our preliminary work has traced the outage to a damaged database file. At this time, there is no evidence of a cyber attack. The FAA is working diligently to further pinpoint the causes of this issue and take all needed steps to prevent this kind of disruption from happening again.’
A source speaking to CNN said the FAA is still trying to determine whether any one person or ‘routine entry’ into the database is responsible for the corrupted file.
Another source told CNN exactly how the situation on Wednesday unfolded.
Air traffic controls officials realised they had a system issue around 15:00 on Tuesday, tracing it to a corrupt file. They devised a plan to reboot the system when air traffic was minimal, early on Wednesday morning. This can take around 90 minutes so was a significant decision.
The reboot went ahead before most East Coast planes began to fly, and while the system did come back up, “it wasn’t completely pushing out the pertinent information that it needed for safe flight, and it appeared that it was taking longer to do that,” the source said.
That pushed the FAA to issue a halt order on all flights. Planes on the ground could not take off, while those already in the air were advised over the radio by air traffic controllers working from static electronic or paper records.
CNN‘s source said ageing infrastructure was the issue’s root cause.
“Because of budgetary concerns and flexibility of budget, this tech refresh has been pushed off. I assume now they’re going to actually find money to do it.
“The FAA’s infrastructure is a lot more than just brick and mortar.”