Before a flight takes off, pilots are to read a Notice to Air Mission (NOTAM) outlining potential safety hazards that may be encountered during the flight. Filled with numeric codes and special acronyms, these critical digital his messages contain warnings of disruptions such as bad weather, migrating flocks of birds, and nearby rocket launches. But the NOTAM system is also vulnerable, as evidenced by the grounding of thousands of flights across the United States last week.
The root of the problem appears to lie in the computer operating systems that the Federal Aviation Administration has been using to relay NOTAM for the past 30 years. The FAA is still investigating what went wrong, but “personnel” – reportedly two of her contractors who didn’t follow procedures – corrupted the computer system that sent the NOTAMs to the pilots. I think I uploaded the file. Authorities initially tried to resolve the issue without significantly impacting flight schedules, but they ultimately forced him to hold all flights within the United States from taking off for over an hour. 9/11 terrorist attacks.
This looks very bad for the FAA, which is struggling to keep up both financially and technically as the number of people flying continues to skyrocket. scrutiny has become more intense over the past few years, especially amid an ongoing pilot shortage, rising fuel prices, rising tensions over working conditions and increasingly problematic IT systems. Providing the airline industry with the right course corrections depends on overcoming the politicization of aviation.
Unfortunately, the FAA’s fate depends on the disruption of Congress, which controls the FAA’s funds. Earlier this month, one of his Republican congressmen proposed creating an Advanced Aviation Administration to develop systems better suited to future aviation technology. The Senate Commerce Committee now plans to investigate how the NOTAM issue came about. The recent turmoil has also drawn attention to the fact that the FAA does not have a permanent administrator. President Joe Biden nominated Denver International Airport’s current CEO, Philip Washington, in July, but the Senate has yet to schedule a confirmation hearing. The FAA’s current authorization bill, which provides funding, expires at the end of September unless Congress takes action. The FAA’s current budget is smaller than it was in 2004 when inflation is taken into account.
“This is an opportunity for Congress to actually provide the funding many of us have been seeking to help modernize the system,” said Rory Gallow, an engineering professor and aviation expert at the Georgia Institute of Technology. I hope it will be a wake-up call,” he said. “We need this at a time when, frankly, as our transportation system grows, new threats to our technology emerge, pushing the boundaries of what the system can do.”
The FAA’s technical problems should not come as a surprise. Last year, the agency requested about $30 million to fix the technology that supports his NOTAM system. The airline industry has already complained that NOTAMs are outdated and that messages are too long and overloaded with useless information. Manual backup systems don’t look all that great either. After his NOTAM computer system went down last Wednesday, air traffic controllers were reportedly required to verbally share information that may have been relayed in a digital NOTAM. Functionally, this meant a return to the radio communications and telephones the FAA used before computers were introduced.
There is other evidence that the agency is in need of a serious technical overhaul. In August 2015, hundreds of flights across the East Coast were canceled due to a technical glitch at an air traffic control center in Virginia. And last year, the rollout of 5G threatened to disrupt the entire airline industry after the FAA raised concerns that new wireless services could interfere with the radio altimeters planes use when landing. There are efforts to update air traffic control systems and the National Airspace System (NAS), but the migration has encountered hurdles and is still ongoing.
Technical issues are not confined to one federal agency. Hours after his NOTAM outage in the US, Canadian air traffic control services ran into the same problem. And last month, thousands of flights were canceled, passengers without crews, and crews with passengers, due to failures exacerbated by the aging software Southwest Airlines relies on to schedule its employees. It wasn’t the first time an airline had dealt with a technical issue.
Debate over who is to blame is heating up on both sides of the aisle as Congress considers its next move with the FAA. Republicans are busy criticizing potential 2025 presidential candidate Pete his Secretary of Transportation Buttigieg. But the Revolving Door Project, a research group investigating corporate influence on executive branch, suggests that the FAA’s troubles may stem from the Trump administration. situation. In response to the debacle, Buttigieg said there must be “adequate safeguards built into the system” so that one human error or mistake cannot have such a large impact on U.S. aviation. .
“It’s been partisan since at least the 1950s,” Janet Bednarek, a history professor at the University of Dayton, tells Recode. “The debate over government liability? What is the liability of the airlines using this system or private her pilots using the system? throw them into a political environment.”
It’s not clear where the battle for the FAA’s future will go next. Democrats are using the debacle to double down on support for Biden’s nominee, Philip Washington, while Republicans still voice their opposition. A new argument is that one Washington technically does not qualify as a civilian. The law appears to require FAA administrators to either be civilians or receive a “military exemption” from Congress.
Of course, there are also reasonable explanations for why NOTAM updates didn’t happen organically. The technology has been tested over time, and pilots know the best and worst days in the system. They can’t say the same for things they haven’t used yet.
“You know what can go wrong with your system,” explains Bednarek. “I don’t know what’s wrong with the new system.”
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