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MarketWatch First Take: FAA computer outage leads to nearly 10,000 U.S. flights delayed

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Nearly 10,000 U.S. flights were delayed Wednesday after a Federal Aviation Administration computer outage grounded planes across the country.

The overnight outage hit the FAA’s Notice to Air Missions System, which provides pilots with safety information.

As of 7:30 p.m. Eastern, there had been 9,785 total delays of flights within, into or out of the U.S., according to flight tracking service FlightAware. The service also reported 1,333 total cancellations within, into or out of the U.S. today.

This is also the first time since since 9/11 that flights have been grounded across the U.S., according to Michael McCormick, assistant professor in the Applied Aviation Sciences Department at Embry-Riddle Aviation University. “This is rare that this happened,” he told MarketWatch. “The fact that they had to initiate a ground stop across the United States, that hasn’t happened since September 11, 2001. So you get an idea of the magnitude of this”

The outage sent airline stocks falling before the market opened although they rallied after the opening bell. American Airlines Group Inc.
AAL,
+0.99%

closed the day up 1%, while United Airlines Holdings Inc.
UAL,
+4.28%

was up 4.2%. Delta Air Lines Inc.’s
DAL,
+0.24%

stock rose 0.2%, Spirit Airlines Inc. 
SAVE,
+1.79%

was up 1.8% and JetBlue Airways Corp. 
JBLU,
+1.83%

rose 1.8%. Southwest Airlines Co.’s
LUV,
-0.66%

stock fell 0.7%. The U.S. Global Jets ETF 
JETS,
+0.36%

rose 0.4%.

Also read: Airline stocks tumble as FAA computer outage grounds flights in U.S.

“Normal air traffic operations are resuming gradually across the U.S. following an overnight outage to the Notice to Air Missions system that provides safety info to flight crews,” the FAA tweeted at 8:50 a.m. Eastern time. “The ground stop has been lifted.”

The FAA later said it had “traced the outage to a damaged database file,” and said it would take steps to avoid another similar disruption.

Earlier, the FAA had tweeted that flights already in progress could safely land. “Pilots check the NOTAM system before they fly,” the FAA said. “A Notice to Air Missions alerts pilots about closed runways, equipment outages, and other potential hazards along a flight route or at a location that could affect the flight.”

ALSO READ: The outage of an FAA alert system has snarled flights — what’s the notice system at the center of the problem?

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg tweeted that he has been in touch with the FAA about the outage.

President Joe Biden was briefed on the situation by Buttigieg, according to White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, who said that the president directed the Department of Transportation to conduct a full investigation into the outage. At this stage, there is no evidence of a cyberattack, according to Jean-Pierre.

A Notice to Air Missions contains “information essential to personnel concerned with flight operations but not known far enough in advance to be publicized by other means,” according to the FAA’s website. The notice provides the abnormal status of a component of the National Airspace System, not the normal status, according to the FAA.

Additional reporting by Andrew Keshner.

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