US FAA Grounds Contractors Involved In Computer Outage

American aviation regulator withdraws system access from contractors involved in computer outage that halted American flights

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has taken action after a computer system outage grounded flights across the United States earlier this month.

On 11 January the FAA had ordered a temporary halt to all domestic flight departures in the US after a system outage.

The grounding of 11,000 flights in the United States on 11 January, was the first nationwide aviation shutdown since the 11 September 2001 al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington.

Deleted file

It was blamed on a FAA system called “Notice to Air Missions” or NOTAMS, which provides pilots, flight crews and other users of US airspace with critical safety notices.

Reuters reported that last week the FAA had discovered that the system had gone offline after contract personnel “unintentionally deleted files”.

According to Reuters the FAA has now told US lawmakers on Wednesday that it had revoked access to the pilot messaging database to contractor personnel involved.

The FAA in an email to lawmakers seen by Reuters identified the contractor involved as Bethesda-based Spatial Front.

“All personnel from Spatial Front directly involved in the deletion have lost access to FAA buildings and systems while we complete our investigation,” the FAA email to lawmakers said.

The company did not respond to an email from Reuters late Wednesday.

The FAA reportedly said the deletion occurred while personnel were working “to correct synchronisation between the live primary database and a backup database.”

Outdated system

On Wednesday, the US House of Representatives passed legislation to establish an FAA task force to improve the NOTAM database, Reuters reported.

“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,” said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Sam Graves.

Representative Rick Larsen, the top Democrat on the Transportation Committee said “the travelling public should be able to reach their destinations without system outages derailing their flight due to outdated technology.”

Separately, acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen plans to meet with lawmakers Thursday, sources told Reuters.

The FAA has reportedly been without a permanent FAA administrator since late March.