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FAA's NOTAM computer outage affected military flights

The data file that triggered the incident was corrupted by contractors.
Airliners wait for takeoff in a queue at runways 36L and 36R at Orlando International Airport, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023, after the FAA grounded all U.S. flights earlier in the day. Flights were grounded nationwide for the first time since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the U.S., reportedly due to an FAA computer system failure. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
Orlando Sentinel via Getty Images
Mariella Moon
Mariella Moon|@mariella_moon|January 14, 2023 10:55 AM

On January 11th, the Federal Aviation Administration paused all domestic departures in the US after its Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system failed. The agency later revealed that the outage was caused by a database file that was damaged by "personnel who failed to follow procedures." Now, according to a new report from The Washington Post, the database failure also created issues for tools used by US military pilots. 

One of the affected systems was the Defense Internet NOTAM Service (DINS), which typically comes with FAA alerts regarding flight hazards. During the outage, military pilots were either getting NOTAMs in duplicates or not getting any at all. The Post said an FAA bulletin notified military users that the system had become "impaired and unreliable." Unlike civilian flights, which had to be grounded, military flights can proceed in situations like this. An Air Force spokesperson told the outlet that the military branch's pilots had to call around to ask for potential flight hazards themselves. 

The outage had also erased all NOTAMs submitted to the system starting on Tuesday afternoon, so airports and air traffic controllers were asked to re-submit them. Further, the FAA had to deal with delays and other challenges after the system went back up due to a "high system load."

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The FAA is still verifying what caused the outage, but The Post said it's looking like the contractors truly made mistake and that there was no malicious intent behind their actions. Lawmakers are using this opportunity to put a spotlight on the FAA's outdated technology and to seek funding for upgrades. The computer system that failed and led to the outage is already three decades old, and according to CNN, it's also at least six years away from getting an upgrade. It remains to be seen if the incident will change that timeline.

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FAA's NOTAM computer outage affected military flights