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Safety system failure in U.S. grounds over 5000 flights

By Wole Oyebade (with agency report)
12 January 2023   |   4:50 am
No fewer than 5000 flights were either delayed or cancelled yesterday over a safety system glitch that hit airports in America. The fault, earlier suspected as a cyber-attack, began overnight and was only resolved at 9:00 hours..

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No fewer than 5000 flights were either delayed or cancelled yesterday over a safety system glitch that hit airports in America. The fault, earlier suspected as a cyber-attack, began overnight and was only resolved at 9:00 hours (3p.m. Nigeria time), leaving airlines with chaotic disruption that will last several days to fix.

Global air movement tracker, FlightAware, estimated that about 4,600 flights to, from and within America had been delayed as of 9:25 a.m. ET (3:25p.m. local time), and more than 800 flights cancelled.

By afternoon, the Federal Aviation Administration lifted its order to halt all domestic flight departures across America after it restored the system providing pilots with pre-flight safety notices.

The agency earlier put a ground stop order in place after its Notice to AirMen (NOTAM) about system failure. The FAA, however, lifted the order shortly before 9 a.m. ET (3p.m. Nigerian time), and the agency said normal air traffic operations were resuming across the country. It said it was still trying to determine the cause of the problem.

But airlines continued to delay or cancel flights because of ongoing congestion. An airline source familiar with the situation said airlines may implement ground delay programmes, which could potentially lead to further timetable issues.

The FAA’s website was still showing ground stops at Atlanta, Boston and New York’s LaGuardia Airport as of 6 p.m. local time. The site also showed a ground delay at Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina, one of American Airlines’ largest hubs.

Airlines for America, an association representing America airlines, earlier said the outage was “causing significant operational delays.” Major America carriers including United Airlines, Delta and American Airlines all said they had grounded flights in response to the situation. United Airlines has issued a North America travel waiver in response to the outage.

America President, Joe Biden, said there was no immediate information on what had caused the outage – the second America aviation crisis in a matter of weeks. He said he had been briefed on the situation and was in touch with Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttgieg.

“I just spoke with Buttigieg,” he told reporters as he departed the White House. “They don’t know what the cause is. But I was on the phone with him for the last 10 minutes. I told them to report directly to me when they find out. Aircraft can still land safely, just not take off right now.”He continued, “They don’t know what the cause of it is. They expect in a couple of hours they’ll have a good sense of what caused it and will respond at that time.”

Asked whether it was a cyberattack, Biden said: “They don’t know. They will find out.” Earlier, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement that there was “no evidence of a cyberattack at this point,” but that Biden had ordered a Department of Transportation investigation.

Buttigieg said via Twitter Wednesday morning that he had ordered an “after-action process to determine root causes and recommend next steps.” Southwest, which cancelled tens of thousands of flights after Christmas following a systemwide meltdown, has more cancellations and delays than the other airlines. About eight per cent of Southwest flights are canceled and 42 per cent of flights are delayed.

International flights bound for the United States were continuing to take off from Amsterdam and Paris despite the situation. A Schiphol Airport spokesperson told reporters that “a workaround had been issued” and flights were still departing from Amsterdam.

No flights have been canceled from Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, but delays were expected, according to the airport’s press office. Frankfurt Airport also said that it had not been impacted.

A London Heathrow Airport spokesperson added that they were “not aware of canceled flights and that flights to the U.S. had left recently,” however there were passenger reports of significant delays.

Shabnam Amini told CNN that she and other travellers had been sitting on board Americans Airlines flight 51 to Dallas for almost three hours at Heathrow because of the FAA outage.

She said they had been informed that there were delays but were still boarded onto the aircraft.

Commercial airline pilots use NOTAMS for real-time information on flight hazards and restrictions.

The FAA stipulates NOTAMS are not to be relied on as a sole source of information, and so some flights may be able to satisfy safety requirements by using other data.

Wednesday’s incident comes on the heels of another aviation crisis. A huge winter storm over the end-of-year holidays caused extensive disruption and helped trigger the Southwest Airlines meltdown that affected thousands of passengers.