BREAKING: FAA System Outage Creates Nightmares for Travelers


“Abandoned Plane” by Brett Levin Photography is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

On Jan. 11, the standard operation of air traffic nationwide came to a screeching halt. With the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) being the most extensive transportation agency within the United States government, its smooth functioning is vital in the lives of American citizens. The FAA’s primary functions are to ensure the safety of civil aircraft, along with military aircraft, and to maximize the efficiency of the aviation system provided to the public.

As passengers boarded in and out of planes, the Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system crashed, resulting in what investigators call a “damaged database file.” The NOTAM system abruptly grounded and delayed all flights because this system is responsible for notifying pilots of safety hazards. Without knowledge of the conditions on the runways and in the air, pilots could not jeopardize the safety of the passengers by taking off blindly. Thousands of flights were either canceled or delayed as the system malfunction could not be fixed until the next day. 

After such a disruptive incident, many are calling for the FAA to take a hard look at the current system they have installed. Although it has not shown its flaws until now, it is clear the FAA’s technology is outdated and is in major need of modernization. The Southwest debacle a few weeks ago was caused by many aspects, but the primary reason for its temporary downfall was an outdated scheduling system. 

During the intense winter storms that hit a majority of America in late December, flights across the country were canceled. Southwest, however, was hit hard. Due to their “point-to-point” system, which results in cross-country flights making pit stops along its route, similar to the constant stoppages of buses or trains. With an abundance of flight delays and cancellations, Southwest’s system could not keep track of where their planes were, thus causing a national logistical nightmare.

Technology can be the greatest tool available, but it can also cause catastrophes when used poorly. In the modern world, keeping up with the advances of technology is difficult, but as the FAA system outage told everyone, it is necessary.