Officials Claim Corrupt Software Introduced by Contractors Took Down FAA System

According to a senior government official, the software that failed and then forced the Federal Aviation Administration to ground thousands of flights on Wednesday is over 30 years old and yet to be scheduled to be updated for another six years. 

The system, installed in 1993, runs a scheme called Notice to Air Mission system, or NOTAM. According to the official, the NOTAM system sends pilots critical information necessary to fly.

A government official said a corrupted file, which affected both the backup and primary NOTAM systems, appeared to be the culprit after the FAA was able to get the planes flying again.

Eight contract employees had access to the system. However, one, or possibly two, of those employees could have edited the system, according to government sources. Investigators are determining if malice or human error is at fault for taking down the system.

Pete Buttigieg, Transportation Secretary, said he has asked the FAA “to ensure that there are enough safeguards built into the system that this disruption can’t happen because of a person’s decision, action, or mistake.”

After Buttigieg briefed the president, he ordered an investigation. 

Thousands left stranded

During the airlines’ chaos, tens of thousands of travelers were left stranded after the FAA tweeted out at 7:20 a.m. that airlines must pause all domestic departures at 9 a.m. (times E.T.), “to allow the agency to validate the integrity of flight and safety information.” At the same time, the organization tried to repair the NOTAM system. 

At 8:50 a.m., the FAA issued a ground stop. Regular air traffic control operations began to resume gradually. However, airports nationwide were already inundated by a backlog of flights and frustrated travelers. 

Flights across the United States were slowly starting to resume departures. A ground stop was lifted after the FAA said it would fix the overnight halt to departing flights.

“Normal air traffic operations are resuming gradually across the U.S. following an overnight outage to the Notice to Air Missions system that provides safety info to flight crews. The ground stop has been lifted. We continue to look into the cause of the initial problem,” tweeted FAA.

Earlier, the FAA ordered airlines to pause domestic departures after the critical pilot alerting system crashed. It is expected to halt the implementation of a ground delay program to address the backlog of flights put on hold for hours. Flights in the air are already allowed to choose a location.