WASHINGTON/CHICAGO, Jan 11 (Reuters) – U.S. flights began to slow takeoffs after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) scrambled to fix an overnight system outage that grounded all flights from the United States.
More than 7,300 flights were delayed and 1,100 canceled, according to the FlightAware website, industry officials said.
The total is still rising and according to several airlines, the outage could cause delays at least until Thursday, officials said.
The cause of the problem with the pilot-alert system was unclear, but US officials said they had not yet found any evidence of a cyber attack. US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told CNN there were “irregularities” with safety messages sent to pilots overnight.
He said the ground stop was “the right call” to make sure messages were moving properly and that there was no direct evidence of a cyber attack.
The outage occurred at a typically slow time after the holiday travel season, but demand remains strong as travel continues to recover to pre-pandemic levels.
The FAA said in a tweet that regular air traffic operations are resuming.
The outage will affect traffic until Friday, said Capt. Chris Torres, vice president of the Allied Airmen’s Association.
“This thing was lifted at 9 a.m. Eastern. That doesn’t mean the problem will stop at 9 a.m. It’s going to have ripple effects,” said Torres, who flies members for American Airlines.
One problem airlines face is trying to get flights into congested gates, causing further delays. Group time limit rules can also be a factor.
At the airport in Greenville, South Carolina, Justin Kennedy dropped off a business trip to nearby Charlotte. He said there was confusion because flight attendants didn’t know what the FAA was saying, and many passengers were initially unaware of the delays.
“I sat in the Chick-fil-A dining area with a good view of the TSA exit,” said the 30-year-old IT worker. “
The FAA had earlier ordered airlines to suspend all domestic departures after its pilot warning system malfunctioned, and the company had to perform a hard reset around 2 a.m., officials said. Aircraft already in the air were allowed to proceed to their destinations.
Shares of U.S. carriers rose again after the market opened as flights resumed. S&P 500 Airlines Index (.SPLRCAIR) It rose 1% in afternoon trade.
A trade group representing the U.S. travel industry, including airlines, called the FAA system failure “catastrophic.”
“America’s transportation network is in need of significant upgrades,” said Jeff Freeman, president of the American Travel Association, in a statement. “We call on federal policymakers to modernize our critical air travel infrastructure.”
American flyers have a few alternatives. Driving distances are very long and the country’s commuter rail network is thin compared to other countries.
The outage had limited impact on transatlantic routes, as European carriers including Lufthansa, Air France, Iberia and British Airways said flights in and out of the US would continue. Virgin Atlantic warned that some flights may be delayed.
Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell, a Democrat, said the committee would investigate. Republican Senator Ted Cruz called the failure “absolutely unacceptable” and said the issue would lead to reforms as part of FAA reauthorization by September.
An operational meltdown at Southwest late last year left thousands stranded. A severe winter storm before Christmas combined with the Texas-based carrier’s dated technology led to the cancellation of 16,000 flights.
The FAA’s parent agency, the DOT, criticized Southwest’s failures and pressured the airline to compensate passengers. Butiguek on Wednesday rejected a suggestion that the FAA reimburse travelers for delays caused by the FAA issue.
The FAA experienced another significant computer problem on January 2, which led to significant delays in Florida flights.
A total of 21,464 U.S. flights carrying nearly 2.9 million passengers were scheduled to depart Wednesday, data from Cirium showed.
Rodney Allen was on his way from Cincinnati to Puerto Rico on vacation with friends, but got stuck in Newark.
“As soon as we landed, the passengers on board said that the planes had been grounded,” said the 25-year-old entrepreneur. He still had the option of checking in on a flight to Puerto Rico, but his friends were given travel credits.
Reporting by Doina Siaku and David Shepherdson in Washington, Abhijit Ganapavaram in Bangalore, Jamie Freed in Sydney and Rajesh Kumar Singh in Chicago; Additional reporting by Nathan Gomes and Priyamvada C in Bangalore, Alison Lambert in Montreal, Tainsola Oladipo in New Jersey, Sinead Carew in New York and Steve Holland in Washington; Additional reporting by Shailesh Kuber and Alexander Smith; Editing by Edmund Blair and N.
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