U.S. FAA adopts new safeguards after computer outage halted flights

FILE PHOTO: Status of the flights are displayed at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had ordered airlines to pause all domestic departures due to a system outage, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., January 11, 2023. REUTERS/Alyssa Pointer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) told lawmakers it had made a series of changes to prevent a repeat of a computer system outage that on Jan. 11 disrupted more than 11,000 U.S. flights.

Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen wrote in a letter dated Friday and seen by Reuters on Monday that the agency has made a change in the system to prevent a corrupt file from damaging a backup database.

Last week the FAA told lawmakers it had revoked access to a pilot messaging database by contractor personnel who unintentionally deleted files in the Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) database.

Nolen's letter said attempts to restore those files contributed to the outage and since then the FAA had adopted a one-hour delay in synchronizing databases that should prevent data errors from immediately reaching the backup database.

The FAA also said it "now requires at least two individuals to be present during the maintenance of the NOTAM system, including one federal manager."

Reuters reported some of the upgrades earlier. The FAA action was the first nationwide groundstop of departing flights since the Sept. 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacks on the United States.

The NOTAM system provides critical safety notices to pilots, flight crews and other users of U.S. airspace.

The NOTAM System consists of two interdependent systems, the FAA letter said, the legacy U.S. NOTAM System, which is 30 years old, and the newer Federal NOTAM System, which it called the foundation for the ongoing modernization effort.

The primary database and a backup database are located in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, while two additional backup databases are in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

The FAA began modernizing the NOTAM system in 2019 "and is scheduled to discontinue the legacy U.S. NOTAM System by mid-2025. Phase two of the NOTAM system modernization is planned to be completed in 2030," the letter said.

The FAA said it has conducted three assessments of the system since 2020 including the most recent in October.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Howard Goller)

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