WASHINGTON, Jan 11 (Reuters) – Flights from the United States were slowly starting to resume departures and a ground stop was lifted after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) struggled to fix an overnight system failure that forced the suspension of all U.S. departure flights.
The cause of the problem, which delayed thousands of flights across the United States, is unclear, but US officials said they had so far found no evidence of a cyberattack.
“Normal air traffic operations are gradually resuming across the United States following an overnight outage in the Air Mission Advisory system, which provides safety information to flight crews. The ground stop has been lifted. We are continuing to investigate the cause of the issue. start,” the statement said. FAA said in a Tweet.
More than 4,300 flights have been delayed and 700 canceled as authorities say it will take hours to recover from the disruption to flights.
The FAA had previously ordered airlines to pause all domestic departures after its pilot alert system went down and the agency had to perform a hard reset around 2am, officials said.
The FAA said that shortly before 8:30 am, departures were resuming at Newark and Atlanta airports.
The FAA is expected to implement a ground delay program to deal with the backlog of disrupted flights for hours. Flights already airborne were allowed to continue to their destinations during the ground stop.
US President Joe Biden ordered the Department of Transportation to investigate the outage and said the cause of the failure was currently unknown. Asked whether a cyberattack was behind the outage, Biden told reporters at the White House: “We don’t know.”
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg promised “an after-action process to determine root causes and recommend next steps.”
The FAA said it is working to restore the Notice to Air Missions system, which alerts pilots to hazards and changes to airport facilities and procedures that have stopped processing up-to-date information.
A total of 4,314 US flights were delayed until 9:04 am ET, flight tracking website FlightAware showed. Another 737 were cancelled.
United said it has resumed operations. The Chicago-based operator, however, warned that customers may continue to experience some delays and cancellations.
Shares of US carriers fell in premarket trading on Wednesday. Southwest Airlines (LUV.N) was down 2.4%, while Delta Air Lines Inc (DAL.N), United Airlines (UAL.O) and American Airlines (AAL.O) were down about 1%.
“America’s transportation network is in desperate need of significant upgrades… We urge federal policymakers to modernize our vital air travel infrastructure.” said Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the US Travel Association, a group representing US airlines, hotels, rental car companies and theme parks.
The FAA’s system outage comes weeks after an operational meltdown at Southwest late last year left thousands of passengers stranded.
A severe winter storm just before Christmas, coupled with the Texas-based carrier’s outdated technology, led to more than 16,000 flight cancellations last month.
DOT, the FAA’s parent agency, has been highly critical of Southwest’s failures and pressured the airline to compensate passengers for missed flights and other related costs. There is no legal requirement that the FAA must compensate passengers for flight delays caused by agency computer problems.
A NOTAM is a notice containing information essential to personnel involved in flight operations, but not known early enough to be disclosed by other means.
The information can be up to 200 pages for long-haul international flights and can include things like runway closures, bird warnings, and construction obstacles.
United Airlines (UAL.O) said it has temporarily delayed all domestic flights and will issue an update when it learns more from the FAA.
Germany’s Lufthansa and Air France said they were continuing to operate flights to and from the United States, while the French airline said it was monitoring the situation.
The operator of Paris’ international airports – Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport and Orly Airport – said it expected flight delays.
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport said on Twitter that ground stops across the country were causing delays. A ground stop is an air traffic control measure that slows or stops aircraft at a given airport.
In an earlier statement on its website, the FAA said its NOTAM system had “failed,” although NOTAMs issued before the outage were still visible. Earlier this month, a problem with a computer control system for a different airline delayed dozens of flights in Florida.
A total of 21,464 flights are scheduled to depart from US airports on Wednesday, with the capacity to carry nearly 2.9 million passengers, Cirium data shows.
American Airlines has the most departures from US airports, with 4,819 scheduled flights, followed by Delta and Southwest, Cirium data showed.
Reporting by Doina Chiacu and David Shepardson in Washington, Abhijith Ganapavaram in Bengaluru, Jamie Freed in Sydney and Rajesh Kumar Singh in Chicago; Additional reporting by Nathan Gomes and Steve Holland in Washington Screenplay by Shailesh Kuber and Alexander Smith Editing by Edmund Blair and Nick Zieminski
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