Government officials are trying to unravel what led to Wednesday's Federal Aviation Administration system outage. Although the problem has been traced to a corrupt file in the system, there are speculations it might be a Russian cyber attack. A source familiar with the incident said that the corrupt file was found in the system and backup system of the Federal Aviation Administration.
The FAA flight delays were caused by a malfunction in the digital NOTAM system and its backup due to a corrupt file. This made domestic flights in the United States grounded on Wednesday for the first time since September 11, 2001.
The FAA has commented on the situation, saying they are already investigating the source of the problem and will "take all needed steps to prevent this kind of disruption from happening again." This nationwide incident has created increasing concern among US residents, who think it could be a Russian cyber attack.
A preliminary investigation from the Federal Aviation Administration has a different perspective. They established the problem came from a corrupt file in the digital NOTAM system and its backup. However, they reiterated they are still investigating to unearth more details of what caused the attacks and those involved.
"Our preliminary work has traced the outage to a damaged database file. At this time, there is no evidence of a cyber attack," FAA said.
What Happened to the Digital NOTAM System?
An unnamed source familiar with the events surrounding the FAA flight delays said the problem started late Tuesday. From the source description, the FAA officials discovered they had a problem with the control system, which could cause issues with air traffic control.
They devised the plan of rebooting the digital NOTAM system so it would not disrupt air traffic control on Wednesday morning. FAA flights were grounded after the digital NOTAM system took time to reboot and function properly.
The central database for all NOTAMs (Notice to Air Missions) nationwide was the system that failed, and it is what helps pilots to make certain decisions while traveling. According to the source, the FAA switched to the backup of the digital NOTAM system and found out they had the same problem. This led to several FAA flight delays.
According to the source, the digital NOTAM system "did come back up, but it wasn't completely pushing out the pertinent information that it needed for safe flight, and it appeared that it was taking longer to do that." It was at 7:30 a.m. ET that officials issued the "FAA flights grounded" order, which stopped domestic departures from leaving.
Digital NOTAM System An Aging Infrastructure
The central database for all NOTAMs (Notice to Air Missions) has been described as an aging infrastructure by an unnamed source after the FAA flights got grounded. The source described the aviation system as an aging infrastructure that has been ignored by the government and needs a total overhaul.
"Because of budgetary concerns and flexibility of budget, this tech refresh has been pushed off. I assume now they're going to actually find money to do it. The FAA's infrastructure is a lot more than just brick and mortar," the anonymous source said.
When the five-year FAA Reauthorization Act signed in 2018 expires later this year, Congress will revisit investments in the aviation sector.