FAA computer outage latest in series of issues plaguing air travel industry, experts say

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Thursday, January 12, 2023
FAA outage latest in series of issues plaguing air travel industry
Cybersecurity consultants say the latest airline issue only highlights the need for more to be done.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The airline industry is back to business after a chaotic Wednesday morning at airports across the country.

A morning ground stop on domestic flights was put in place after the FAA's Notice To Air Missions system had an outage.

"This system provides information to pilots," explained John Kasarda, a UNC Kenan Flagler Professor and airport consultant.

"It could be weather conditions, it could be migratory bird blocks, it could be runways closed. It's the range of safety issues that the pilots need to be aware of," Kasarda said.

Kasarda said the latest travel meltdown is just the latest in a series of issues plaguing the airline industry.

"It's compounded other problems that we've seen recently," Kasarda said. Some of them, like the airline systems being overwhelmed a week or so ago, we saw in particular, with the weather issues in particular Southwest Airlines, but the other airlines were impacted as well.

"It's compounding issues of worker shortages in the aviation industry as travel expands very very rapidly. So, this is all coming together," he added. "There are even issues in the FAA that are being looked at-they haven't had an administrator since last March. There's nobody really leading the organization."

Aside from inconveniences and delays, Kasarda points out there's a bigger effect with the outage.

WATCH: FAA computer problems affect flights at RDU

FAA computer problems affect flights at RDU, particularly to and from New York.
The scene at RDU was mostly one of resigned patience as travelers endured delays caused by the FAA's computer problems.

"It has a huge economic impact that we don't recognize. So, aviation is essential to business today. It's essential to local economic development. It's essential to a range of factors that impact people's opportunities and lifestyles, and it goes beyond just the inconvenience of being delayed or canceled," Kasarda said.

The White House said there is no initial evidence of a cyberattack behind the outage. But President Joe Biden ordered the DOT to conduct a full investigation into what went wrong.

Meantime, Kasarda and other cybersecurity consultants say the latest airline issue only highlights the need for more to be done.

"With the FAA and with the airlines with their outdated IT systems, they're gonna have to try to look for ways that redundancy can be built into those systems, so, if there's a failure of one component that it's backed up," he said.

"There needs to be more focus on cybersecurity," explained Craig Petronella of Petronella Technology. "There needs to be more emphasis, more budgeting, more testing more drills or regulatory compliance. And, maybe new frameworks from the NIST or specifically for SCATA for government systems that can help these organizations better catch up."