SCIENCE + TECHNOLOGY

Pre-flight safety system the cause of Wednesday morning’s flight delays

Jan 11, 2023, 8:30 PM | Updated: 8:46 pm

FILE -- A Delta plane departs from a hangar at the Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lak...

FILE -- A Delta plane departs from a hangar at the Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 11, 2021. A failure to the FAA's pre-flight safety system forced the grounding of thousands of flights around the country for roughly 90 minutes Wednesday morning, Jan. 11, 2023. Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Thousands of flights around the country were grounded Wednesday morning due to a failure with a system that provided pilots with pre-flight safety notices.

ABC News correspondent Alex Stone joined Jeff Caplan’s Afternoon News Wednesday afternoon to discuss the latest. He said it’s the first nationwide grounding of flights taking off in the United States since Sept. 11, 2001.

Stone said there are a couple of significant differences between Wednesday’s incident and the one that occurred more than 21 years ago.

“The planes that were in the air doing mainly red eyes early this morning were not forced to land today,” he said. “They could continue on. And they didn’t close the airspace.”

Pre-flight safety systems

Stone said for about 90 minutes Wednesday morning the Federal Aviation Administration wouldn’t allow flights to depart due to a failure of its NOTAMS, or Notice to Air Missions. These are safety briefings provided to pilots, so they don’t fly into closed air space or try to land on a closed runway.

“Things that they’ve got to be aware of and the system totally went down,” Stone said. 

Stone said the Department of Transportation doesn’t see any signs of it being a cyber-attack.  Additionally, he said the FAA is working to get to the bottom of it to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Based on an internal investigation by the FAA, Stone said they believe this was a routine scheduled maintenance. 

“It went bad that it was a mistake by a single engineer,” Stone said. “Who replaced one file with another in an antiquated old computer system, saying it was an honest mistake that cost the country millions of dollars.”

Ironically, Canada’s NOTAMS also went down on Wednesday. Stone said Canada is using its backup and it is unrelated to the incident in the United States. 

Jeff Caplan asks Stone if hackers are at work here.

“So far what we have been told internally is that they don’t believe it is,” Stone said. “That it may just have been a coincidence.”

At least 9,500 flights were delayed around the country by the incident, and 1,300 additional flights were canceled. Southwest Airlines had 51% of its flights delayed. Southwest also had 426 flights canceled. 

Jeff Caplan’s Afternoon News can be heard on weekdays from 3 to 7 p.m.

 

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Pre-flight safety system the cause of Wednesday morning’s flight delays