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Senate to review cause of FAA computer system outage

WASHINGTON (NewsNation) — The Senate Commerce Committee announced Wednesday that the panel plans to review the cause of a Federal Aviation Administration computer system outage that sparked a nationwide ground stop and delayed or canceled more than 4,000 U.S. flights.

“We will be looking into what caused this outage and how redundancy plays a role in preventing future outages. The public needs a resilient air transportation system,” Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell said.

The ground stop was lifted shortly before 9 a.m. ET.

As Congress is still being briefed about the NOTAM computer system failure, House Majority Leader Rep. Steve Scalise said he doesn’t feel that new rules or regulations need to be added, but they do need to figure out what caused this issue.

“Incompetence is not an excuse to increase regulation, you gotta go fix the problem. At the end of the day, if you’ve got a referee out on the field, and the players can’t perform, you get rid of the players, you don’t add more rules to the rulebook,” Scalise told NewsNation. “Frankly, I think the rules already are making it harder for people to do their job, but there’s some people that aren’t up to the job, and that’s the problem we have right now.”

He continued: “I think the secretary has got some tough questions to answer. We’re going to be bringing him in and asking him those questions. Frankly, I think a lot of people across America are going to be watching because they’re being hurt by the incompetence we’re seeing over at the Department of Transportation.”

While the White House initially said that there is no evidence of a cyberattack, President Joe Biden said, “We don’t know” and told reporters he’s directed the Department of Transportation to investigate the cause of the disruption.

Biden addressed the FAA issue Wednesday before leaving the White House to accompany his wife to a medical procedure at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center outside Washington. He said he had just been briefed by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who told him they still had not identified what went wrong.

“I just spoke to Buttigieg. They don’t know what the cause is. But I was on the phone with him about 10 minutes,” Biden said. “I told him to report directly to me when they find out. Air traffic can still land safely, just not take off right now. We don’t know what the cause of it is.”

Buttigieg said in a tweet that he is in touch with the FAA and monitoring the situation.

This is just the latest headache for travelers in the U.S. who faced flight cancellations over the holidays amid winter storms and a breakdown with staffing technology at Southwest Airlines. 

South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace said a “serious conversation” about technology and aviation is needed after these incidents.

“We want to make sure that our technology works, that our technology is safe, our technology is secure,” she said. “This cannot continue, especially with this being just on the heels of the Southwest Airlines debacle.”

If outdated technology is the issue, Mace said she wants to hear Buttigieg say he and the FAA will come to Congress and brief them on the matter.

“If we’re dealing again with another story of legacy systems, this is 2022; this should not be happening,” she said.

The FAA said it was working on restoring its Notice to Air Missions System.

Before commencing a flight, pilots are required to consult NOTAMs, or Notices to Air Missions, which list potential adverse impacts on flights, from runway construction to the potential for icing. The system used to be telephone-based, with pilots calling dedicated flight service stations for the information, but has now moved online.

Breakdowns in the NOTAM system appear to be rare.

The FAA said that it would provide frequent updates as it made progress.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.