FAA system failure grounds hundreds of flights

DENVER, Co.--The Federal Aviation Administration's National Airspace Data Interchange Network, which logs flight plans nationwide, experienced a serious system error on Tuesday, grounding hundreds of flights on the East Coast and in the Midwest.

"It appears to be an internal software processing error, but we're going to have to do some forensics on it," said Hank Krakowski, chief operating officer of the FAA's Air Traffic Organization. "These are very complicated systems."

The error occurred around 1 p.m. Eastern time, shutting down a central computer system in Atlanta, Ga. NADIN operates on a load-bearing system, so when the main facility went down, requests for flight plans shifted to a backup system in Salt Lake City, Utah. But that system was overwhelmed by the volume and began rejecting requests for flight plans, making it impossible for hundreds of planes to get off the ground.

Radar systems were unaffected, and air traffic controllers gave priority to planes that were running low on fuel, enabling flights already in the air to land safely.

The delays were worst in Atlanta, which also was affected by a severe storm. Chicago's Midway Airport, Boston's Logan Airport, Baltimore's Thurgood Marshall International Airport and Dallas's Love Field also experienced substantial delays, though Krakowski said the situation was improving as of 5:15 p.m. Eastern.

Krakowski said the agency did not believe that the error was caused by computer hackers.

The FAA experienced a similar problem in June 2007, when an error in NADIN in Atlanta caused a system crash, and the resulting workload overwhelmed the Salt Lake City backup. But Diane Spitaliere, a FAA spokeswoman, said that she had been told that the Tuesday software error was different from the 2007 flaw.

NADIN was built and is maintained by Hughes Network Systems. In June of this year, FAA awarded a maintenance contract to Hughes worth up to $900,000 over five years, with a minimum price of $5,000 per service call.

Ken Donoghue, a spokesman for Stratus Technologies, the company that manages the hardware behind NADIN, said that as of 5 p.m. Eastern, there was no indication of a hardware failure. The company would know, he added, because the system automatically sends an alert in the event of a failure, noting which component of the system is involved.

"The air traffic control system, everyone admits, is antiquated," said Roger Dow, the president and chief executive officer of the Travel Industry Association. "We need a true world class system."

Coincidentally, Dow was in Denver for the Democratic National Convention, pushing the presidential candidates to address air travel delays that have irked passengers over the past several months. He said that the system failure was putting a crimp in his plans. "We're already getting calls from people who aren't making it to the convention."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    Download
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    Download
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    Download
  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

    Download
  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

    Download
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    Download
  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.