Computer Breakdown Grounds Flights Nationwide in Latest Blow to U.S. Transportation System

A computer breakdown brought American airliners to a screeching halt on Wednesday forcing a nationwide stoppage imposed by the FAA in the latest blow to the U.S. transportation system.


A computer breakdown brought American airliners to a screeching halt on Wednesday forcing a nationwide stoppage imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the latest blow to the U.S. transportation system.

  • Thousands of flights were cancelled or delayed after a glitch caused the system that provides safety information to pilots – called NOTAMs (Notice to Air Missions) – to fail.
  • Pilots and dispatchers must review the NOTAMs before takeoff, which can include warnings about bad weather, closed runways or other real-time events that could impact the flight.
  • Approximately 9,600 flights were delayed and over 1,300 were cancelled due to the 90-minute nationwide stoppage. “Many industry officials compared the grounding to what occurred after the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001,” according to Reuters.
  • “There is no direct indication of any kind of external or nefarious activity, but we are not yet prepared to rule that out,” Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg told reporters. The FAA said in a Wednesday evening statement a “damaged database file” was the likely culprit behind the system failures.
  • The nationwide flight disruption is just the latest transportation meltdown to occur on Buttigieg’s watch. Buttigieg has already had to deal with 2022’s supply chain crisis, the freight rail strike that nearly crippled the economy and Southwest Airlines’ meltdown over the holidays in his brief tenure.
  • Republicans demanded Buttigieg and President Joe Biden act swiftly to resolve the crisis. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) urged Biden to select a new candidate to run the FAA as his current nominee “has no experience in safety and aviation.”
  • While normal operations began to resume on Wednesday evening, delays and cancellations are expected to ripple throughout the system over the following days as airlines get their schedules back on track.

reporting from the left side of the aisle


  • CNN offered more background information on NOTAM, the computer system that caused the flight stoppage. NOTAM is a separate system from the air-traffic control system and the systemwide failure could lead to efforts to upgrade the technology.
  • Politico published a minute-by-minute timeline of the FAA-imposed flight shutdown on Wednesday, “the first instance of a nationwide flight grounding since Sept. 11, 2001.”
  • The Washington Post contextualized the flight shutdown with the other recent disruptions to affect U.S. travelers. Wednesday’s shutdown was the second mass flight cancellation in two weeks, after Southwest melted down at the end of December.


  • Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) has introduced a bill requiring Buttigieg to fly commercial until the FAA and Southwest flight cancellations are fully investigated and resolved by the Department of Transportation. Buttigieg has flown “approximately 20 times” on private jets on the public dime in less than 2 years as Secretary of Transportation.
  • The New York Post noted NOTAMs were previously called “Notices to Air Men,” but the name of the warning system was changed last year into something more gender neutral.
  • The Wall Street Journal recapped the “day of chaos” the FAA unleashed on U.S. airports. The Journal pointed out that air-traffic delays don’t leave passengers with many options as many airines don’t pay for lodging if a flight is delayed over an air-traffic control issue.

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© Dominic Moore, 2023