FAA says computer failure that grounded thousands of flights caused by 2 contractors

A computer failure that prompts a stop all US flight departures The cause was when a data file was corrupted due to failure to follow government procedures, the Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday.

Unspecified “personnel” were responsible file corruption, which led to the failure of the FAA’s computer system that sends safety alerts to pilots, the agency said in a statement. That prompted the FAA to order a halt to all U.S. flights, causing thousands of delays and cancellations on Wednesday.

“The system is working properly and cancellations are now below 1%,” the agency said.

Preliminary indications are that two people working for a contractor have identified errors in primary data used in system known as Notice to Air Missions, or Notam, according to a person familiar with the FAA review. The person asked to remain anonymous speaking about the sensitive, ongoing issue.

Notams are alerts to pilots about critical safety conditions at airports and other areas that aircraft may pass through, including everything from warnings about bird activity to runway construction.

As with other computer systems critical to operating flights, the FAA imposes procedures to ensure that data is not corrupted by the technicians working on it, the person said. The file or files are changed despite the rules that prohibit these types of changes in a live system.

Agency officials are trying to determine whether the two people made the changes accidentally or intentionally, and whether there was any malicious intent, the person said.

When the system started having problems Tuesday night, technicians switched to a backup. But since the backup tried to access the same corrupted data, it didn’t work either, the person said.

A complete shutdown was required to restore the system, leading the FAA to halt all flight departures for roughly 90 minutes Wednesday morning.

The agency is trying to create new safeguards to avoid such a failure in the future, the person said. Parts of Notam’s computer system are as old as 30 years.

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