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January 11, 2023

Computer failure delays flights nationwide, including dozens at Philly airport

The pause on domestic flights has been lifted after an outage to the Federal Aviation Administration's NOTAM system

Transportation Airlines
PHL flight delays Tim Gouw/Unsplash

Domestic flights in the United States, including those at PHL, resumed Wednesday morning after the FAA halted most air travel due to computer problems with the Notice to Air Missions system. Pilots check NOTAM prior to taking off and it alerts them about closed runways, equipment outages and other potential hazards.

Flights from multiple airlines were temporarily grounded throughout the United States, including dozens scheduled to depart from Philadelphia, on Wednesday morning due to an outage of a system that provides pilots with flight hazard information and real-time restrictions, the Federal Aviation Administration said. 

The pause on domestic flights was lifted just before 9 a.m. The FAA said normal operations will resume gradually. At Philadelphia International Airport, 113 flights were delayed and 37 flights were canceled by 9 a.m.

The FAA had stopped domestic departures while it worked to restore the Notice to Air Missions system, which went down overnight and caused disruptions at airports nationwide. Pilots check NOTAM prior to taking off, the FAA said. The system alerts pilots about closed runways, equipment outages and other potential hazards along their flight routes.

"Technical issues impacting the FAA’s NOTAM system are affecting some, but not all, flights arriving or departing from PHL," airport spokesperson Heather Redfern said in an email Wednesday morning. "Passengers should contact their airline for the most current flight status."

Although pilots are able to fly without the NOTAM system, the initial response to the outage had varied among airports and airlines. United Airlines temporarily delayed all domestic flights, while American Airlines and Southwest Airlines advised passengers to check their flight statuses using the carriers' respective websites.

More than 4,000 flights traveling within, into or out of the United States were delayed Wednesday morning, according to FlightAware. More than 700 flights were canceled.

Passengers expecting to fly on Wednesday morning shared their experiences on social media, saying some pilots had informed them that flights were being grounded nationwide. Before FAA temporarily halted domestic departures, some flights were still taking off from airports in the New York City area and elsewhere.

It's not yet known what led to the outage. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre tweeted there is no evidence of a cyberattack, but the U.S. Department of Transportation has been ordered to conduct a full investigation into the causes. 

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said he has been in contact with the FAA about the pending investigation and next steps.