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FAA’s grounding of all U.S. flights points to vastly outdated technology

The Department of Transportation describes system as "failing vintage hardware."

On the morning of January 11, all U.S. domestic flights were halted, cancelling thousands of flights across the country. Now, the facts are trickling in on what caused this major dilemma, painting and unsettling picture of the fragility of the FAA’s infrastructure.

The FAA has released a statement confirming that the cancelled flights were due to an outage of the Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system caused by a contract personnel “unintentionally deleted files while working to correct synchronization between the live primary database and a backup database.” In addition to the catastrophic effect on commercial flights, the one person’s error also negatively impacted military flights. The NOTAM outage caused military flights to receive duplicate NOTAM messages, or even receive no messages at all. Once the system was restored to running properly, flights were delayed further as the network was inundated with a high volume of information.

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While it’s truly astonishing to realize that this hamstring of the country’s air traffic could be caused by one person’s error, this mishap is shedding light upon a bigger issue in the outdated technology and procedures of the FAA. As reported by CNN, the software that caused the grounding of flights is 30 years old and 6 years away from an upgrade, according to a government source close to the news organization. It remains to be seen if this incident will speed up that timeline. In a request for $30 million for upgrades, the Transportation Department described the NOTAM system as “failing vintage hardware.”

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