More aviation troubles as FAA reports NOTAM glitch
Travel headaches resurfaced this week when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)'s Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system suffered an outage. More than 11,000 flights in and out of the US had been delayed and at least 1,300 were cancelled as of Thursday morning (1/12/23), when the FAA reported things were back to normal.
The series of events beginning Wednesday morning began with the NOTAM system outage and included cancellations, delays, and security paranoia. The most recent update from the FAA (issued at 6:30 Eastern last night) claims "there is no evidence of a cyberattack" and that the outage was traced to a "damaged database file" but cautioned that things are still being investigated. The administration defines a NOTAM system (of which there are three varieties) as follows: "A NOTAM is a notice containing information essential to personnel concerned with flight operations but not known far enough in advance to be publicized by other means. It states the abnormal status of a component of the National Airspace System (NAS) – not the normal status." Other aviation dictionaries simply define the acronym as "a Notice to Airmen/Notice to Air Men/Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) is a notice filed with an aviation authority to alert aircraft pilots of potential hazards along a flight route or at a location that could affect the flight." Additional notes on NOTAMs are included on the FAA website, including the explanations below:
NOTAMs indicate the real-time and abnormal status of the NAS impacting every user.
NOTAMs concern the establishment, condition, or change of any facility, service, procedure or hazard in the NAS.
NOTAMs have a unique language using special contractions to make communication more efficient.
Two related things should be noted here, even if their pertinence to the outage remains to be seen: The original wording of the NOTAM definition was recently changed by the U.S. Department of Transportation to exclude the term "airmen" in an effort to make it "more inclusive". Secondly, the entire NOTAM tree was consolidated in 2019 as part of a modernization project.
Meanwhile, here is the full timeline of statements from the FAA since Wednesday morning, with the most recent updates first:
FAA STATEMENT 6:30 p.m. EST
The FAA 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.
FAA STATEMENT 8:50 a.m. EST
Normal air traffic operations are resuming gradually across the United States following an overnight outage to the FAA’s Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system that provides safety information to flight crews. The ground stop has been lifted.
The agency continues to look into the cause of the initial problem.
FAA STATEMENT 8:15 a.m. EST
The FAA is making progress in restoring its Notice to Air Missions system following an overnight outage.
Departures are resuming at Newark Liberty (EWR) and Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson (ATL) airports due to air traffic congestion in those areas.
We expect departures to resume at other airports at 9 a.m. Eastern Time.
FAA STATEMENT 7:15 a.m. EST
The FAA is still working to fully restore the Notice to Air Missions system following an outage.
The FAA has ordered airlines to pause all domestic departures until 9 a.m. Eastern Time to allow the agency to validate the integrity of flight and safety information.