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FAA outage affects Richmond International Airport

an American Eagle branded jet boarding passengers
Scott Elmquist
VPM News
The Federal Aviation Administration grounded all flights early Wednesday.

National air travel was grounded early Wednesday morning for several hours due to an outage in an FAA system that alerts pilots to obstructions before takeoff.

The Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system — based on a nearly century-old practice — is meant to alert pilots to hazards like snow, volcanic ash or birds near an airport. When the outage was discovered, the FAA ordered airlines to halt all domestic departures until 9 a.m. EST while it tested whether crews had managed to bring NOTAM back online.

More than 4,300 flights were delayed, and hundreds were canceled, according to NPR. Those numbers include flights scheduled at Richmond International Airport.

Troy Bell, RIC’s director of public information, told VPM News via email that the airport had 124 scheduled arrivals and departures for Wednesday. And “during the 5-9AM period, RIC had 23 departures scheduled for today.”

Bell said a handful of early departures — including cargo planes for FedEx and UPS — made it out before the ground stop, but at least 30 planned flights experienced delays of at least one hour, and five reported cancellations by 10:30 a.m. By 2 p.m., 20 flights were still delayed by at least one hour, and seven had been canceled.

“I can’t confirm that they’re all tied to the FAA systems issue, but this is a much higher-than-usual count of disrupted flights,” Bell said.

On his weekly press call, Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine said between Wednesday’s outage and the holiday travel issues that recently affected Southwest Airlines, the U.S. Congress needs to “dig in” to get answers.

“You need to get FAA officials and other air traffic controllers and others to come before Congress and explain, ‘You know what this problem was? And what's the need? Is it better management? Is it better investment?’” Kaine said.

Kaine also said airlines may not have been prepared for travel numbers to return to pre-COVID-19 levels.

“Many of the airlines were saying that they didn't expect to see pre-COVID travel return to what it had been post-COVID till about 2024,” Kaine said. “So, maybe the airlines weren't ready for it to bounce back so fast.”

The White House said the outage showed no signs of a cyberattack.

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said on Twitter that he “directed an after-action process to determine root causes and recommend next steps.”

The RIC spokesperson said passengers can expect possible delays into Thursday, but most scheduled flights should be close to normal.

Ian M. Stewart previously was the transportation reporter and fill-in anchor for VPM News.
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