FAA Computer Problem Causes Widespread Flight Delays
A computer glitch that caused flight cancellations and delays across the U.S. Thursday has been resolved, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
The problem involved the FAA computer systems in Salt Lake City and Atlanta that handle automated flight plans, forcing air-traffic controllers to revert to the much more time-consuming approach of entering flight plans by hand.
That produced a "domino effect" delaying flights around the country, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association said.
Many of the nation's airports weren't encountering departure delays, according to the FAA air-traffic system command center Web site. But major delays were reported in Washington, New York, Philadelphia and Chicago.
At Washington's Dulles International Airport, flights destined for New York's LaGuardia Airport were averaging delays of one hour and 20 minutes. Traffic bound for Philadelphia from Dulles was running more than two hours behind. The FAA said gate hold and taxi delays at Dulles were averaging more than one and a half hours, and are lengthening.
FAA spokesperson Paul Takemoto said the problem started between 5:15 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. EST.
Delays began on the East Coast and rippled out to the west. The problem didn't affect radar coverage or communications with planes in the air, the FAA said. The air traffic controllers union, however, said the FAA systems that provide information on weather and wind speeds at airports weren't functioning.
As of mid-morning, the delays appeared to be waning, based on a check of some major airports, according to FlightStats.com. The Web site, which captures FAA flight data, indicated that departures from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport were delayed by 20 to 60 minutes. But departures scheduled for later in the day were generally showing to be on time.
"The airport is working to minimize the impact on customers by bringing in additional staff and ensuring that all facilities are operational and fully maintained," a statement from Hartsfield-Jackson officials said.
Departures from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York were indicated running at more than an hour behind schedule for a handful of flights, according to FlightStats.com. But this afternoon, they show on time. Philadelphia International Airport showed delays of 15 to 30 minutes on some flights scheduled to depart soon, but departures scheduled for later also looked to be on time.
US Airways Group Inc. said the FAA's problems created a systemwide slowdown for its planes, with some being delayed up to 30 minutes. The airline said it brought additional staffers to its operations center in Pittsburgh to cope with the slower, manual processing of flight information.
American Airlines, the second-largest U.S. airline by traffic behind Delta Air Lines and unit of AMR Corp., said the FAA has indicated it has fixed or is close to fixing the main automated flight-plan system. Meanwhile, the process of entering plans manually is flowing better now, spokesman Tim Smith said.
"It's going much more smoothly now, so the system is flowing," Mr. Smith said. "It took a little while to get them up to speed."
American had yet to cancel any flights and was seeing delays of 10 to 20 minutes, though some stretched to an hour, Mr. Smith said. "We've had worse days driven by weather," he said. "This is perhaps broader but not as extreme."
Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines Inc., the largest U.S. airline by traffic, said it was experiencing some delays but continued to dispatch flights and was assessing a situation that remained fluid.
An AirTran spokesman said as of 8 a.m. EST Thursday the airline had canceled 22 flight across the U.S. He said the cancellations were mainly at their Atlanta hub, but flights were affected nationwide.
The FAA system is a major, cutting-edge program full of redundancies that are designed to keep it from going down. As such, the problem is quite different from localized radio communication or computer problems the FAA suffers from time to time.
Passengers are being asked to check the status of their flights online before going to airports.