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FAA lifts ground stop prompted by system glitch; Feds check into possibility of cyberattack

A Spirit Airlines jet at Philadelphia International Airport.
Charlie Riedel/AP
A Spirit Airlines jet at Philadelphia International Airport.

An FAA-ordered ground stop for domestic airline departures until 9 a.m. Wednesday was lifted by the federal agency shortly before that deadline.

A Tweet shortly after 8:45 a.m. by the FAA said: "Normal air traffic operations are resuming gradually across the U.S. following an overnight outage to the Notice to Air Missions system that provides safety info to flight crews. The ground stop has been lifted. We continue to look into the cause of the initial problem."

An airport official at Southwest Florida International Airport said RSW passengers should check with their airline for the most up-to-date information. Victoria Moreland, chief communications and marketing officer for the Lee County Port Authority said there were delays in Atlanta and possibly with United.

The FAA earlier Wednesday had ordered airlines to pause all domestic departures until 9 a.m. to allow the agency to validate the integrity of flight and safety information.

An issue with FAA computer systems affected flights across the U.S. early Wednesday. Some airports, in Jacksonville, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and Richmond, Virginia, were shut down. Airports in Tampa and Orlando reported experiencing delays.

The Associated Press reported that 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.

The AP also reported delays and cancellations accelerated rapidly Wednesday morning, with more than 3,700 stuck on the ground around 8:30 a.m. Eastern, more than all the delayed flights for the entirety of the previous day, according to the flight tracking website FlightAware. More than 550 have been cancelled, and that number was ticking higher quickly.

More than 21,000 flights were scheduled to take off in the U.S. Wednesday, mostly domestic trips, and about 1,840 international flights expected to fly to the U.S., according to aviation data firm Cirium.

Some medical flights can get clearance and the outage is not impacting military operations.

Early Wednesday, flights for the U.S. military’s Air Mobility Command had not been impacted, said Air Force Col. Damien Pickart, a spokesman for Air Mobility Command is responsible for all the troop movement and supply flights, such as the C-17s that carry the president’s motorcade vehicles when he travels, but also all the flights that transport troops from one base to another. Air Mobility Command was working with the FAA on the issue.

The FAA said it is working to restore its NOTAM, Notice to Air Missions System, which provides a notice to pilots of something they need to know at an airport like weather or a runway closure.

NPR reported the FAA's NOTAM system went dark around3:28 a.m.

"We are performing final validation checks and reloading the system now. We will provide frequent updates as we make progress. Operations across the National Airspace System are affected," an FAA statement said shortly after 6 a.m.

The FAA said via Twitter: "All flights currently in the sky are safe to land. Pilots check the NOTAM system before they fly. A Notice to Air Missions alerts pilots about closed runways, equipment outages, and other potential hazards along a flight route or at a location that could affect the flight."

An official at Southwest Florida International in Fort Myers said RSW was still operating as of 6 a.m. but airlines would comply with the FAA order.

WGCU is your trusted source for news and information in Southwest Florida. We are a nonprofit public service, and your support is more critical than ever. Keep public media strong and donate now. Thank you. The Associated Press contributed to this report.