NEW YORK (AFP) – Aviation authorities were racing on Wednesday to figure out what caused the outage of a crucial alert system that forced the temporary halt on all United States (US) domestic takeoffs, triggering thousands of delays and cancellations.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said normal operations were being restored but the early morning halt created knock-on effects that snarled travel throughout the day.
The grounding order was issued after the FAA identified an issue with the Notice to Air Missions system (NOTAM), which provides information to pilots about hazards, changes to airport facilities and information that can affect flights.
“Our preliminary work has traced the outage to a damaged database file,” the FAA said in a tweet on Wednesday evening, adding that “at this time, there is no evidence of a cyberattack”.
The temporary outage spelled yet another hellish day for US travellers – less than a month after a bad winter storm roiled the system.
“I just learnt that my flight was delayed again,” said Vince Hamilton, who was at Reagan National Airport near Washington seeking to travel to Chicago, and then on to St Louis – where, he said, “I have to catch a bus that I’m probably going to miss.”
Wednesday’s nationwide order was believed to be the first time since the attacks of 9/11 that such a broad command had been issued, according to aviation experts cited in US media.
The FAA did not respond to queries seeking confirmation.
Near 8pm eastern time (EST), more than 1,300 flights within, into or out of the US had been cancelled, with more than 9,800 suffering delays, according to flight tracking website Flight Aware.
The difficulties sparked fresh criticism on Capitol Hill and throughout Washington of the FAA, which has had no confirmed administrator since March.
The FAA reported the problem on Twitter at 6.29am EST saying it was working to restore the NOTAM system, before announcing 50 minutes later that it ordered a pause on all domestic departures until 9am.
Flying experts said the system in question contains a range of highly relevant details, such as a closed runway, to less significant matters, like the presence of a crane somewhere in or near the airport.