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FAA hit with network glitch; Flight plans go manual

The Federal Aviation Authority is looking into a networking problem that threatens to delay flights across the U.S. The problem resides in its telecom network.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Updated: The Federal Aviation Authority is looking into a networking problem that threatens to delay flights across the U.S.

FAA spokesman Les Dorr said that there's a "problem with the telecommunications network that's affecting automated processing system" for things like flight plans.

"Anything controllers normally have done automatically have to be done manually," said Dorr. Indeed, the FAA has a ground stop. Atlanta is the hub that appears to  be most affected, reports CBS News.

According to the FAA, the problems reside in the FAA Telecommunications Infrastructure, or FTI for short. FTI provides the voice, data, and video communications that support operations and mission support functions at more than 4,000 FAA and Department of Defense (DoD) facilities. Add it up and the network provides for more than 20,000 services such as switching and routing, network monitoring and control.

The FAA is currently investigating the problem. Dorr reiterated that the FAA can track planes with radar and have communication with pilots, but there's an efficiency issue: You can only keep tabs on so many planes manually.

The manual process for flight plans and other essential is that these documents are emailed or faxed and then entered to the processing system.

The outage started between 5:15 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. and Dorr said it's impossible to predict the impact on delays Thursday because it's still early in the day.

You can track the flight delays across the country at the FAA site. Here's the snapshot as of 9:43 a.m. EST.

Update: The FAA said it fixed the issue at 9 a.m. EST. In a statement, the FAA also shot down theories that a cyberattack was to blame. The statement in full:

At approximately 5:00 am EST a router problem disrupted a number of air traffic management services including flight plan processing.  The problem was resolved at approximately 9:00 am EST.  Air traffic control radar and communication with aircraft were not affected during this time and critical safety systems remained up and running.

The failure was attributed to a software configuration problem within the FAA Telecommunications Infrastructure (FTI) in Salt Lake City.  As a result FAA services used primarily for traffic flow and flight planning were unavailable electronically.

The National Airspace Data Interchange Network (NADIN), which processes flight planning, was affected because it relies on the FTI services.  During the outage air traffic controllers managed flight plan data manually and safely according to FAA contingency plans.

There is no indication the outage occurred as a result of a cyber attack.

System wide delays and cancellations will continue to be assessed throughout the day.

A team of FAA technical and safety experts is already investigating the outage.  FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt is meeting with representatives from Harris Corporation, the company that manages the FTI, to discuss system corrections to prevent similar outages in the future.

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