Acting FAA chief to testify before U.S. Senate panel on computer outage

Passengers wait for the resumption of flights at O'Hare International Airport
Passengers exit a bus at Terminal 2 as they wait for the resumption of flights at O'Hare International Airport after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ordered airlines to suspend all domestic departures due to a disruption in the system, in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., January 11, 2023. REUTERS/Jim Vondruska/File Photo

WASHINGTON, Feb 8 (Reuters) - The acting head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will testify on Feb. 15 before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee on a Jan. 11 computer system outage that disrupted more than 11,000 U.S. flights, sources told Reuters.

Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen told lawmakers last month that the agency has made a change in the system to prevent a corrupt file from damaging a backup database, after the agency found that the outage occurred when contract personnel "unintentionally deleted files."

The outage prompted the FAA to halt departing flights for about two hours, the first nationwide ground stop since the Sept. 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacks on the United States.

The FAA did not immediately comment late Wednesday. Nolen has been acting FAA administrator since April 1.

Last month, the FAA told lawmakers it had revoked access to a pilot messaging database by contractor personnel who unintentionally deleted files in the Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) database. The NOTAM system provides pilots, flight crews and other users of U.S. airspace with critical safety notices.

Nolen told lawmakers that attempts to restore those files contributed to the outage and since then the FAA had adopted a one-hour delay in synchronizing databases that should prevent data errors from immediately reaching the backup database.

The FAA also said it "now requires at least two individuals to be present during the maintenance of the NOTAM system, including one federal manager."

The NOTAM System consists of two interdependent systems, the legacy U.S. NOTAM System, which is 30 years old, and the newer Federal NOTAM System.

The primary database and a backup database are located in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and two additional backup databases are in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

The FAA began modernizing the NOTAM system in 2019 "and is scheduled to discontinue the legacy U.S. NOTAM System by mid-2025. Phase two of the NOTAM system modernization is planned to be completed in 2030," the letter said.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Sandra Maler and Leslie Adler

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