FAA: Contractors by accident deleted recordsdata, resulting in safety system failure

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The Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday that contractors working on a system that alerts pilots to potential hazards “unintentionally deleted files,” resulting in a nationwide grounding and thousands of flight delays last week.

The agency said it is continuing the investigation and has updated Congress with the latest findings as lawmakers demanded answers about the cause of the outage.

Distributing bulletins called Notices to Air Missions, the system is a patchwork of new technology and components that are three decades old. In its Thursday statement, the FAA said contract workers were attempting to fix synchronization between a live database and a backup system when the problem began.

The system began failing in the afternoon of January 10, and efforts to restore it failed by evening. In the early hours of January 11, the agency decided to reset the system and order a nationwide halt to all air traffic—the first of its kind since September 11. Air traffic soon resumed, but delays continued throughout the day.

FAA system failure brings another round of disruption to US air travel

The FAA said its preliminary review found no evidence of a cyberattack or malicious intent.

The outage highlighted the aging computer systems on which flight safety depends. It remains unclear how the bug could bring down the entire notification system, but the FAA said it has repaired the system and taken steps to ensure it is more resilient.

“The agency is acting quickly to adopt any other learnings from our efforts to ensure the continued resilience of the national air traffic control system,” the FAA said.

The outage came after Southwest Airlines had thousands of flight cancellations in December, a problem that was blamed on outdated technology.

The two incidents have increased scrutiny of the aviation system in Congress as lawmakers prepare to create a multi-year funding package for the FAA.

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