What caused FAA computer outage today?

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) experienced a major computer outage early this morning that resulted in a ground stop of all domestic departures in the United States. This resulted in widespread delays and cancelations of flights across the country. The FAA ordered all airlines to pause all domestic departures until 9 AM EST as technicians worked to restore the system. This is the largest computer outage experienced by the FAA since 2015 and has impacted thousands of travelers on one of the busiest travel days of the year.

What was the extent of the outage?

The FAA computer outage began around 7:30 AM EST and resulted in a ground stop on all domestic flight departures. This meant that planes were not allowed to take off from any airport in the United States while the FAA worked to restore the system. International flights into the US were not impacted. The ground stop was lifted around 9 AM EST, but not before thousands of delays and cancellations had cascaded through the system. At the height of the outage, there were more than 5,800 delayed flights within, into or out of the United States.

How many flights were impacted?

According to FlightAware, a flight tracking website, there were 5,832 delayed flights and 965 total cancellations within, into or out of the United States as of 11:30 AM EST. These numbers continued rising even after the ground stop was lifted as airlines worked to recover their operations. The delays and cancellations were concentrated most heavily along the East Coast. Some of the hardest airports hit by delays included Orlando International Airport (MCO) with 7% of flights delayed, Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) with 8% delayed, and New York’s LaGuardia Airport (LGA) with a whopping 25% of flights delayed as per FlightAware’s data.

What was the impact on travelers?

The computer outage and subsequent flight delays/cancellations had a huge impact on travelers across the country, especially on one of the busiest travel days of the year. Thousands were left stranded at airports or scrambling to rebook flights. Videos shared on social media showed massive crowds and long lines at airports like Atlanta (ATL), Detroit (DTW), and LaGuardia (LGA). The delays were exacerbated by the fact that many travelers were flying on Monday for the leadup to the Thanksgiving holiday. Airlines advised customers to check their flight status frequently as more delays and cancellations were expected even after the ground stop was lifted.

What caused the FAA computer outage?

The FAA has stated that the mass outage was caused by a damaged database file. This corrupted file prevented the sharing of important safety information between air traffic control systems. This vital data sharing between systems across the country allows the FAA to ensure separation between thousands of aircraft in flight and provide information on hazardous weather.

Without access to this data, traffic control was significantly hindered, prompting the FAA to halt all domestic departures until connectivity could be restored. Experts say damage to this one database file was able to trigger a cascading outage across the country because of the highly interconnected nature of the system.

Could this have been prevented?

While the root cause of the damaged file is still under investigation, former federal cybersecurity official Chris Boyer told CNN that a number of factors could have contributed to the outage. Preventative measures could potentially have stopped the cascading failure, he said.

The FAA systems run on outdated software, making them potentially more vulnerable to failures of this kind. Updating and strengthening cybersecurity safeguards may have reduced the risk. The FAA also does not appear to have effective backup plans in case of a large-scale outage. Having redundant systems or backups could allow flight traffic control to continue safely.

More rigorous disaster recovery testing and simulation exercises could help bolster resilience against outages in the future, experts say.

Was this a cyberattack?

So far, there is no evidence that the outage was caused by a malicious cyberattack. Both President Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg have stated the outage was not the result of a cyberattack but rather a technical glitch.

Cybersecurity experts say that while sabotage cannot be completely ruled out at this early stage, the system failure was most likely due to internal technical errors rather than an external breach. The damaged database file that triggered the outage could have been caused by a software bug or human error rather than hackers. Investigations into the exact cause are ongoing.

How did the FAA resolve the outage?

FAA technicians worked to identify the damaged database file causing connectivity issues early on in the failure. Fixing this file allowed the sharing of air traffic data to gradually come back online across the country.

Around 9 AM EST, the FAA reported that the bulk of air traffic services had been restored. This allowed the lifting of the ground stop on domestic departures. However, there were still some lingering issues reported at specific air traffic facilities across the country.

As the national airspace reopened, flights began gradually resuming departures. The FAA continued limited arrivals and departures at some locations like Newark and Atlanta as technicians addressed these isolated issues.

By late morning, the FAA reported that recovery efforts were complete – allowing the system to resume operating at full capacity.

Could the FAA have recovered more quickly?

Some aviation experts have criticized the FAA for not having better contingency plans to switch over to backup systems, which could have allowed a faster recovery from the outage.

Former National Transportation Safety Board chair Jim Hall said the FAA should have readied backup systems like the one housed in Oklahoma once the outage began cascading beyond one center early on. This could have contained the failure to one region.

Without robust backup systems ready, the FAA had no choice but to shut down traffic broadly until connectivity was restored. Having effective contingency plans and maturity testing of backup systems could improve the agency’s ability to respond in future outages.

What impact will the outage have going forward?

Now that connectivity has been restored, aviation operations are working their way back to normal schedules and capacity. However, the ripple effects of so many delays and cancellations will continue impacting travelers in the days ahead.

Airlines will be working to reposition planes and crews after so many disruptions across the country. This means further cancellations and delays should be expected. Airlines say travelers booked over the busy Thanksgiving travel week should continue monitoring their flight status.

Experts say it make take as much as a week for flight schedules to return completely to normal. The outage’s impact during one of the busiest travel periods of the year also means huge costs for both airlines and passengers. It will likely spur calls for improvements to prevent similar issues in the future.

Could more outages occur?

The FAA has pledged to determine the root cause of the damaged file that caused the outage and implement measures to reduce the risk of recurrence. Officials say early indications point to an isolated technical issue rather than a systemic problem or cyberattack.

However, major computer outages have occurred multiple times in recent years. A similar failure in Florida disrupted air traffic in 2020. Software issues grounded flights across the West Coast in 2014. With the FAA relying on aging, legacy computer systems, risks remain. Upgrading technology and security as well as improving contingency plans will be important to enhance reliability.

Outages in other critical aviation technology like GPS navigation satellites or weather monitoring systems could also cause major air traffic disruptions. So risks are still present even as the FAA works to prevent this particular issue from occurring again.


The FAA computer outage that halted all domestic flight departures on the morning of November 13, 2023 was an unprecedented failure. A damaged database file corrupted the system’s ability to share vital safety information between air traffic control centers. This forced the FAA to halt departures until connectivity was restored about two hours later. Thousands of delays and cancellations cascaded across the country during one of the year’s busiest travel periods. While still under investigation, the outage appears to have been caused by an internal technical glitch rather than an external cyberattack. But the system-wide failure highlights vulnerabilities in America’s air traffic management network. Aviation officials say it may take a week until normal operations resume across the country. This will lead to calls for enhanced technology, security improvements, and contingency plans to reduce future outage risks. Though an isolated event, this computer failure’s widespread impacts make clear the importance of infrastructure reliability in an interconnected aviation system.

Table of Airport Delays

Airport Location % of Flights Delayed
LaGuardia New York City 25%
Newark Liberty International Newark, NJ 8%
Orlando International Orlando, FL 7%
Atlanta International Atlanta, GA 6%

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