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Notam outage halted air traffic

FAA stopped morning departures nationwide

An overnight failure of the FAA system that distributes notices to air missions snarled air travel on January 11, and left pilots unable to access critical information before flight. A national ground stop was lifted just after 9 a.m. Eastern time, about 8 hours after the incident began.

Airline flights were disrupted January 11 by an outage of the FAA computer system that distributes notams. Photo by Mike Collins.

The outage quickly became the top national news of the moment, with at least one television host among the throngs of passengers boarded and waiting to depart on early morning flights. The FAA posted regular updates on social media, announcing just after 8:15 a.m. that progress was being made restoring the system: "Departures are resuming at [Newark Liberty International Airport] and [Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport] due to air traffic congestion in those areas. We expect departures to resume at other airports at 9 a.m. ET."

The agency posted notice at 9:07 a.m. that the ground stop had been lifted.

Not long after the notam system was restored, the agency advised stakeholders that the FAA had removed notams posted after 1:05 p.m. Eastern time on January 10, and any such notams would need to be re-issued. "Outreach to all registered NOTAM submitter users continues to be in progress," the agency advised. "NOTAM submitters are encouraged to re-issue all applicable NOTAMs for their facility and to review all NOTAMs issued in the last 24 hours to ensure NOTAM data accuracy."

AOPA Director of Airspace, Air Traffic, and Security Jim McClay said industry stakeholders received status updates from the FAA as the restoration progressed on January 11, though it was not immediately clear what caused the problem. The vulnerability of the aging computer system that distributes notams has been known for some time, and whatever the cause of the incident proves to be, the situation will renew discussion of the need to modernize that digital infrastructure. Other critical systems, including air traffic control and navigation, were not affected.

While air traffic was impacted by halting hundreds of airline departures at airports across the country, many operations continued. FlightAware reported 9,286 active flights at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time, including 6,615 commercial airline flights, and more than 2,000 general aviation flights—including flights that FlightAware classifies as "business aviation." American Airlines and United Airlines both issued statements announcing delays, and that they continued to assess the situation.

The effect of the notam outage on air traffic was visible on FlightAware as the sun rose across the United States on January 11, with an unusually low volume of domestic departures and many international flights inbound. Image courtesy of FlightAware.
Jim Moore
Jim Moore
Managing Editor-Digital Media
Digital Media Managing Editor Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot, as well as a certificated remote pilot, who enjoys competition aerobatics and flying drones.
Topics: FAA Information and Services, Notams, Advocacy

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