WASHINGTON, Jan 11 (Reuters) – U.S. flights are slowly starting to resume taking off and lifting ground stops after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) urgently fixed a system glitch that grounded all U.S. outbound flights overnight .
The cause of a problem with the pilot alert system that has delayed thousands of U.S. flights is unclear, but U.S. officials say they have seen no evidence of a cyberattack so far.
The outages come amid the slowest period in U.S. travel history following the peak holiday travel season in December, but airlines say demand remains strong as travel continues to return to near pre-pandemic levels.
“Normal air traffic operations are gradually resuming across the United States following an overnight outage of the air task notification system that provides safety information to crews. The ground stop has been lifted. We continue to investigate the cause of the initial issue,” the FAA tweeted arts.
Even after ground stops were canceled, the number of affected flights continued to rise steadily. One problem airlines are facing is trying to get planes in and out of crowded gates, which has caused further delays.
More than 5,400 flights were delayed and 900 were canceled, according to the FlightAware website, as officials said it would take hours to recover from the disruption.
The FAA had earlier ordered airlines to suspend all domestic flight departures after its pilot alert system collapsed, and the agency had to perform a hard reset around 2 a.m., officials said.
The FAA is expected to implement a ground delay program to address a backlog of flights grounded for hours. Flights already in the air are allowed to continue to their destinations while on the ground.
U.S. President Joe Biden ordered the Department of Transportation to investigate the outage and said it was not yet clear what caused the outage. Asked whether a cyberattack was behind the outage, Biden told reporters at the White House, “We don’t know.”
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg promised to “determine the root cause and recommend next steps.”
need to modernize
Chicago-based United said it had resumed operations, but warned customers may continue to see some delays and cancellations.
Shares of American Airlines initially fell in premarket trading on Wednesday, but rose the most after the market opened as flights resumed.
Southwest Airlines Co ( LUV.N ) fell 0.17 percent, while Delta Air Lines ( DAL.N ), United Airlines ( UAL.O ) and American Airlines ( AAL.O ) rose 1.1 percent, 1.5 percent and 0.4 percent, respectively. JetBlue Airways ( JBLU.O) also rose.
A trade group representing the U.S. travel industry, including airlines, called the FAA system failure “catastrophic.”
“America’s transportation network is in dire need of a major upgrade,” U.S. Travel Association President Jeff Freeman said in a statement. “We call on federal policymakers to modernize our vital air travel infrastructure.”
Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell said the panel would investigate. “We will investigate what caused this disruption and how redundancy can play a role in preventing future disruptions,” she said. “The public needs a resilient air transportation system.”
The FAA’s system outage comes after a Southwest Airlines operations collapse late last year left thousands of passengers stranded for weeks.
A severe winter storm on Christmas Eve, combined with the Texas-based carrier’s outdated technology, led to more than 16,000 flight cancellations last month.
The DOT, the FAA’s parent agency, criticized Southwest’s failure and pressured the airline to compensate passengers. There is no law requiring the FAA to compensate passengers whose flights are delayed due to problems with the agency’s computers.
A NOTAM is a notice containing information necessary for personnel involved in flight operations, but not known in advance to be released by other means. A ground stop is an air traffic control measure that slows or stops an aircraft at a specific airport.
Information on long-haul international flights can run up to 200 pages and may include items such as runway closures, bird hazard warnings and construction obstacles.
United Airlines (UAL.O) said it has temporarily postponed all domestic flights and will issue an update when it learns more from the FAA.
Both Lufthansa and Air France said they would continue to operate flights to and from the United States, while the French carrier said it was monitoring the situation.
Earlier this month, a problem with another airline’s computer control system delayed dozens of flights in Florida.
A total of 21,464 flights were scheduled to depart from U.S. airports on Wednesday, carrying nearly 2.9 million passengers, Cirium data showed.
American Airlines had the most flights from U.S. airports with 4,819 flights, followed by Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines, according to Cirium data.
LIVE: View of flights departing from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
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 Written by Shailesh Kuber and Alexander Smith Editing by Edmund Blair and Nick Zieminski
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