FAA lifts Domestic Flight Departures Halt after Restoring NOTAM System, Delays and Cancellations still persists

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) lifted its order to halt all domestic flight departures across the United States on Wednesday morning, after restoring the system providing pilots with pre-flight safety notices.

The overnight outage caused extensive disruptions and thousands of flights remain delayed across the country. The FAA put a ground-stop order in place after its Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system failed. The FAA lifted the order shortly before 9 am ET and said normal air traffic operations were resuming across the country, however, it was still trying to determine the cause of the problem.

However, airlines continued to delay or cancel flights due to ongoing congestion caused by the system failure. An airline source familiar with the situation said airlines may implement ground delay programs, 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 9:40 am ET, 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 US airlines, earlier stated the outage was “causing significant operational delays.” Major US carriers including United Airlines, Delta and American Airlines all said they had grounded flights in response to the situation. United Airlines issued a North American travel waiver in response to the outage. Despite the system being back online, the ripple effect of the halt may continue to affect flights and travelers.

The cause of the outage is currently unclear.

US President Joe Biden said there was no immediate information on what had caused the outage, which is the second US aviation crisis in a matter of weeks. He said he had been briefed on the situation and was in touch with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who ordered an “after-action process to determine root causes and recommend next steps.” Biden also said that aircraft can still land safely, just not take off right now.

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.

Thousands of Flight Delayed.

According to FlightAware, which tracks delays and cancellations, about 4,600 flights to, from, and within the United States were delayed as of 9:25 am ET, and more than 800 flights were canceled.

Southwest, which canceled tens of thousands of flights after Christmas following a system-wide meltdown, had more cancellations and delays than other airlines. About 8% of Southwest flights were canceled and 42% of flights were delayed.

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

No flights were canceled from Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, but delays were expected, according to the airport’s press office. Frankfurt Airport was also not impacted. A London Heathrow Airport spokesperson said that they were “not aware of canceled flights” but passengers reported significant delays. Passengers such as Shabnam Amini reported waiting on the flight for almost 3 hours at Heathrow due to an FAA outage.

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, so some flights may be able to satisfy safety requirements by using other data.

Wednesday’s incident is the second significant crisis to hit US aviation in a matter of weeks, following a huge winter storm over the end-of-year holidays that caused extensive disruption and helped trigger the Southwest Airlines meltdown that affected thousands of passengers.

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