How the FAA Is Working to Prevent Another Computer Outage 'Meltdown'

The agency has made policy changes and put new protocol in place to prevent a future incident.

Travelers look at an information board showing flight cancellations and delays at Reagan National airport

MANDEL NGAN/Getty Images

The Federal Aviation Administration has taken steps and made policy changes to prevent future computer outages in response to this month's incident that led to a nationwide grounding of flights.

The FAA “now requires at least two individuals to be present during the maintenance of the NOTAM system, including one federal manager,” the administration wrote in a letter sent to lawmakers, according to Reuters. Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen wrote changes have been made to prevent a corrupt file from damaging a backup database.

Last week, the FAA also revoked access to the pilot messaging database for contractor personnel who had unintentionally deleted files in the Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) database, Reuters noted.

The chaos was due to a damaged database file which led to the computer outage on Jan. 11. The halting of takeoffs then caused a cascading effect of problems with passengers missing connections all across the United States and several airlines offering refunds or issuing travel waivers.

Overall, the temporary stop resulted in more than 4,000 flight delays within, into, or out of the U.S. along with more cancellations.

NOTAM notices issue “information essential to personnel concerned with flight operations,” according to the FAA. The alerts are issued along a flight route.

Last week, the House of Representatives passed a bill to establish a task force to study potential improvements to the NOTAM system, according to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

“The recent NOTAM system meltdown highlighted a huge vulnerability in our air transportation system and underscores the need to address the leadership vacuum at FAA,” Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-MO) said in a statement. “As a professional pilot, I use the NOTAM system on a regular basis, and I know firsthand the importance of ensuring that it’s reliable and functional.”

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