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U.S. Congress to investigate FAA computer outage that snarled flights


Passengers exit a bus at Terminal 2 as they wait for the resumption of flights at O’Hare International Airport after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ordered airlines to suspend all domestic departures due to a disruption in the system, in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., January 11, 2023. REUTERS/Jim Vondruska

U.S. lawmakers will review the cause of a Federal Aviation Administration computer system outage overnight on Tuesday that sparked a nationwide ground stop and delayed or canceled more than 10,000 U.S. flights.

Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell, a Democrat, said on Wednesday that the panel “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.”

House Transportation Committee Chair Sam Graves, a Republican, said the ground stop “highlights a huge vulnerability in our air transportation system.” He referred to a recent Southwest Airlines Co (LUV.N) technology meltdown that forced the carrier to cancel more than 16,700 flights.

“Just as Southwest’s widespread disruption just a few weeks ago was inexcusable, so too is the DOT’s and FAA’s failure to properly maintain and operate the air traffic control system,” he said.

Graves said he would be “leading an oversight letter with my colleagues to make sure that we know what went wrong, who’s responsible, and how this is going to be prevented in the future.”

Senator Ted Cruz, the incoming top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, said, “The FAA’s inability to keep an important safety system up and running is completely unacceptable … The administration needs to explain to Congress what happened, and Congress should enact reforms in this year’s FAA reauthorization legislation.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said “the FAA needs to get to root causes so this doesn’t happen again.”

The FAA authorization is due to expire on Sept. 30 and the outage may put pressure on Congress to complete action.

The FAA has been without a permanent administrator since March. The Senate has yet to hold a hearing on President Joe Biden’s pick to head the agency, Denver International Airport Chief Executive Phil Washington, who was renominated by Biden last week.

Graves said “this incident also underscores the number of empty desks and vacant offices at the FAA … The FAA does not run on autopilot – it needs skilled, dedicated and permanent leadership in positions across the agency, starting with the administrator’s office.”

Washington has faced criticism from Republicans after he was named in a search warrant tying him to corruption allegations at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.