A contractor with a corrupt software file has brought air traffic to a halt in the US, according to reports

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TTwo days after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grounded all domestic flights for several hours due to a failure of a critical safety system, questions remain about how this happened.

The Wednesday morning outage affected the agency’s aging Notice to Air Missions system, known as NOTAM. The 30-year-old system warns pilots and flight crews in advance about hazards such as bad weather and runway closures.

On Wednesday, the agency blamed the outage on “a corrupted database file” and Thursday night said the file “was damaged by personnel not following procedures.” The agency did not say whether the incident happened due to human error or intent.

“We need to make sure that there are adequate safeguards built into the system to prevent this level of disruption from occurring because of an individual person’s decision, action or error,” Transportation Pete Buttigieg told NBC Nightly News, reporting that at least at least one of the eight contractors with access to the NOTAM system edited the corrupt data file.

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Wednesday’s outage caused air traffic in the US to come to a virtual standstill for several hours yesterday and resulted in a whopping 10,578 flight delays and 1,353 cancellations.

On the same day that the NOTAM system in the United States went down, Canada’s own NOTAM system also experienced a brief outage. Nav Canada, a private non-profit organization that owns and operates Canada’s air traffic control system, says the incidents are unrelated.

“As we continue to investigate the cause, the issue was related to an isolated IT hardware failure, independent of the issue the FAA was experiencing,” Nav Canada spokesperson Vanessa Adams said in an email. “Mitigation measures were in place to support continued operations and there were no delays associated with this brief outage.”

“Steps have been taken to ensure that the sequence of events from Wednesday morning cannot happen again,” Buttigieg said.

Many industry experts point out that years of underfunding have made it difficult for the FAA to upgrade infrastructure in a timely manner. The agency has been operating without a Senate-confirmed director for nearly a year.

In 2021, the Trump administration cut $3 billion from the agency’s budget, reducing it to $14.2 billion.

This year, the FAA’s annual budget is $23.6 billion, with $1 billion earmarked for NextGen, the Next Generation Air Transportation System, the ongoing, multi-year program to modernize the agency’s aging infrastructure.

“The FAA is in the process of modernizing its NOTAM system,” said an aide to Rick Larsen, senior member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. “The current disruption illustrates the need to modernize all corners of the aviation system.”