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WASHINGTON: A computer glitch forced the US civil aviation regulator (FAA) to temporarily suspend all domestic flights from the United States on Wednesday morning, with the White House ruling out a cyber attack at this stage.
The FAA lifted the ban on all flights on the country’s east coast at 9 a.m. (14:00 GMT) and confirmed in a tweet that “normal air traffic operations are gradually resuming.”
He warned that flights could resume at that time once the problems affecting the critical information system for pilots and crews were resolved.
The violence began on the night of Tuesday to Wednesday. The FAA said it would “continue to investigate the cause of the initial problem.”
To avoid excessive congestion, all domestic flights from the United States had to be suspended until 9:00 a.m., except for Newark Liberty airports (in the western suburbs of New York) and Atlanta, where flights were able to resume earlier.
Responding to a question on the subject, US President Joe Biden said he had spoken with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, but did not yet know the origin of the accident.
“Planes can still land safely, but they can’t take off at this time,” Biden said before the flight ban was lifted.
Regulators “don’t know what the cause is, they expect to have a better idea in a few hours and will react after that,” he said.
White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said on Twitter that at this stage, “there is no indication that this is a cyber attack.”
Baltimore to Ottawa
Several airports in North America (Ottawa, Baltimore, Austin, Boston…) have warned of expected delays and asked travelers to check flight status before heading to the airport.
US carrier United Airlines confirmed in a message that the FAA had lifted the suspension and operations had resumed.
“Customers may continue to experience delays and cancellations while we work to restore our program and should check the company’s app or website for the latest information on their flight,” United added.
“We are closely monitoring the situation and working with the FAA to minimize disruption for customers,” American Airlines said in a separate statement.
This episode of trouble at American airports comes shortly after the massive chaos caused by a Christmastime snowstorm and a series of cancellations at Southwest Company.
The Notification to Air Missions (NOTAM) system affected by Wednesday’s outage informs flight crews of risks, airport incidents and other critical information.
Michel Merluzeau, an analyst at the firm AIR, explained that the system is “critical for the information needed to conduct ground/air operations.”
“This may include airport information, special activities such as military operations or temporary flight restrictions,” he said.
According to flight tracking website Flight Aware, there were about 4,600 delayed flights in the US as of 9:25 a.m. (14:25 GMT) on the East Coast. The number of delays related to the cut was unclear.
A total of 21,464 flights are expected from the US on Wednesday, the vast majority of which are domestic routes, according to figures from analyst Juliett Alpha. About 2 million passengers may be affected by the incident.
US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on Twitter that he had called for an investigation “to determine the cause (of the outage) and recommend next steps.”