The disruptions to domestic flights in the United States on Wednesday were found to be due to a technical glitch in a critical system that alerts flight crews about safety information.
The system is known as Air Mission Alerts (Notam), and is a vital way to keep flights safe in the United States.
The system operates separately from the air traffic control system, as it is used to send notifications to pilots to warn them of any potential dangers.
Notham detects anything in the air that could affect aircraft, such as flocks of birds. Pilots must check the system before taking off from airports.
But that system malfunctioned on Tuesday night, prompting the US agency responsible for air safety, the Federal Aviation Administration, to use a hotline as a backup method for communicating with pilots.
It quickly escalated and the problem became difficult to contain as air traffic picked up on Wednesday morning.
The FAA provided few details about why Notam’s system was down, but the White House said there was no evidence of a cyberattack “at this time.”
The administration said that the malfunction, which is the first of its kind in 20 years, occurred due to “damage to a data file,” stressing that there was no evidence of a cyber attack.
Airports across the United States were affected by the glitch, including thousands of flights scheduled for Wednesday. However, the Aviation Administration announced the gradual resumption of flights, at a later time.
US President Joe Biden called for a “thorough investigation” into what happened, according to a White House spokesman.
How does NOTAM work?
Notam was introduced in 1947 and was initially based on the telephone.
Until December 2021, the system was known as “Notice to Airmen”, but the authorities then changed the name to “Notice to Air Missions”.
The system can be accessed via an online portal on the FAA website. The information provided by the system is used by drone operators and pilots alike.
Written in a jumble of acronyms, NOTAM alerts include warnings of construction in progress, notifications about faulty safety signals or air traffic towers, and other nearby hazards to watch out for.