Following the failure of a system that provides safety information to pilots, thousands of flights across the United States were canceled or delayed. The government launched an investigation into the malfunction, which resulted in the hours-long grounding of some aircraft.
Preliminary evidence, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, “traced the outage to a damaged database file.” The system malfunctioned, and it wasn’t fixed. According to the flight-tracking website FlightAware, the FAA took the unusual step of temporarily banning all takeoffs, and the ensuing chaos resulted in over 1,300 flight cancellations and 9,000 delays by early evening on the East Coast.
FAA advisories state that the NOTAM system failed at 8:28 p.m. on Tuesday, preventing the posting of new or amended notices. The FAA ordered all departing flights grounded early Wednesday, affecting all passenger and cargo flights. President Joe Biden said that he was briefed by Buttigieg.
Pilots and safety officials have complained about NOTAMs for years, saying there are too many of them and that some are unnecessary and written in cryptic abbreviations. The National Transportation Safety Board highlighted the large number of notices in its investigation of a near-disaster in 2017 in San Francisco.
An Air Canada jet whose pilots had overlooked a NOTAM about a closed runway nearly landed by mistake on a parallel taxiway. The FAA said in a 2020 report that it modernized the distribution of the notices through a standardized digital format that was to be completed in July of that year. European flights into the U.S. appeared to be largely unaffected.