U.S. House eyes creating task force on flawed aviation computer system

FILE PHOTO: Republican-controlled House of Representatives reconvenes on Capitol Hill

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. House of Representatives plans to take up bipartisan legislation next week to establish a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) task force to improve a pilot messaging database that failed last week, disrupting 11,000 flights.

The outage of the Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) database prompted the Jan. 11 nationwide groundstop of U.S. passenger traffic, the first since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The NOTAM system provides pilots, flight crews and other users of U.S. airspace with critical safety notices.

The legislation would require an FAA task force to consider improvements, including updates "to ensure the stability, resiliency and cybersecurity of the NOTAM computer system," said Representative Pete Stauber, a Republican sponsor of the bill.


Stauber said in a statement the failure shows "the urgent need for updates and improvements... to keep air traffic moving safely in our skies."

On Thursday, the FAA's initial review found contract personnel "unintentionally deleted files" disrupting the NOTAM system, adding the issue occurred while personnel were working "to correct synchronization between the live primary database and a backup database." The FAA said it has "found no evidence of a cyber-attack or malicious intent."

FAA acting Administrator Billy Nolen held a virtual briefing for congressional staff on Friday but did not identify the contractor involved in the failure. The FAA next week plans to hold a briefing for House lawmakers.

There are two separate databases including a 30-year-old system known as the U.S. NOTAM System" based in Oklahoma City being phased out in favor of the newer "Federal NOTAM system" based in Atlantic City, the sources said.

Last week, the corruption occurred in the US NOTAM system, which then infiltrated the federal NOTAM database. The FAA has since installed safeguards including a staggered updating process to isolate issues before they could impact the other database. The FAA is requiring two people to be present when routine maintenance is being conducted, the sources added.

The FAA said Thursday it has taken steps to make the pilot message system "more resilient." The FAA eventually plans to move the NOTAM messaging system to a virtual platform in the cloud, sources said.

Last week, a group of more than 120 U.S. lawmakers told the FAA the computer outage was "completely unacceptable" and demanded the agency explain how it will avoid future incidents.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Leslie Adler and David Gregorio)