Local News

FAA: Communication breakdown delayed flights

Posted August 26, 2008

— An electronic communication failure Tuesday at a Federal Aviation Administration facility that processes flight plans for the eastern half of the U.S. caused mass delays around the country. The Northeast was hardest hit.

But by early evening, the FAA said that the situation around the country was returning to normal, with delays remaining in Atlanta and Chicago.

Raleigh-Durham International Airport spokesman Andrew Sawyer said there were minor delays early Tuesday evening and that he expected more trouble to come with later flights. He attributed those early delays to a combination of the communication failure in Georgia and weather-related issues.

“The FAA is having problems with some of their computer systems. Luckily at RDU, we have not seen a major impact,” said Mindy Hamlin, a spokeswoman for Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

Flights from RDU to Atlanta were delayed until 7 p.m., the FAA said.

Hamlin said the airport could suffer "trickle down" effects if the communication link was not quickly remedied.

The FAA Web site showed RDU under a "gate hold" and reported general delays of 15 minutes or less.

In Charlotte, officials were preparing for an onslaught of delayed flights in the evening as well. Charlotte Douglass International Airport spokeswoman Haley Gentry said the problem would likely be compounded as the night went.

At one point, an FAA Web site that tracks airport status showed delays at some three dozen major airports across the country. The site advised passengers to "check your departure airport to see if your flight may be affected."

The FAA said the glitch appeared to have involved a software problem at the Georgia facility.

FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen in Atlanta said there were no safety issues and officials were still able to speak to pilots on planes on the ground and in the air.

She said she did not know exactly how many flights were affected, but she said it was in the hundreds. The FAA did not expect to have total figures until Wednesday. Bergen said that in a 24-hour period the FAA processes more than 300,000 flight plans in the U.S.

Bergen said the problem that occurred Tuesday afternoon involved an FAA facility in Hampton, Ga., south of Atlanta, that processes flight plans. She said there was a failure in a communication link that transmits the data to a similar facility in Salt Lake City.

As a result, the Salt Lake City facility was having to process those flight plans, causing delays in planes taking off. She said the delays were primarily affecting departing flights. FAA spokeswoman Diane Spitaliere said there were some problems with arriving flights as well.

During an early evening conference call with reporters, Spitaliere said Tuesday's glitch appeared to be a software problem and the situation was returning to normal, though the Hampton facility was not yet processing flight plans again.

"We have our engineers looking at it and we're doing a complete investigation," she said.

She said delays of 30 minutes remained at airports in Chicago while delays of 60 minutes remained in Atlanta, which was also experiencing weather issues.

Bergen said there was an unrelated hardware problem at the Hampton facility on Aug. 21 that resulted in issues processing flight plans. The FAA says on its Web site that a glitch that day involving the Hampton facility delayed the departure of at least 134 flights.

A spokesman for Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world's busiest airport, did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the impact there from Tuesday's episode. Bergen said officials at the Atlanta airport were entering flight data manually to try to speed things up.

Discount carrier AirTran Airways, which has its hub at the Atlanta airport, said in a statement that because of the suburban FAA center snafu it was at one point taking up to an hour for the FAA to get clearances to the towers for departures Tuesday. Delta Air Lines Inc., which has its main hub in Atlanta, said flights were processing for takeoff, but slowly.

The communication failure caused delays for departures and arrivals at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, according to airport spokeswoman Cheryl Stewart. However, she did not have a number on delays.

The FAA at one point asked that no new flight plans be filed, Stewart said.
Phil Orlandella, a spokesman for Massport, which operates Boston's Logan International Airport, said there were significant delays there, but it was easing up by early evening.

Carolyn Fennell, spokeswoman for the Orlando International Airport, said 13 Southwest Airlines flights had been affected by the glitch.

The National Airspace Data Interchange Network is a data communications system for air traffic controllers. It's used to distribute flight plans and allows controllers to know when planes are leaving, where they're going and other details.

Allen Kenitzer, a western regional spokesman for the FAA, said the Utah system could handle the extra load while workers tried to get the Atlanta area system back online, but it was expected to slow down air traffic.

"We're not going to let an unsafe condition exist. It's just going to be slower," Kenitzer said.

Tuesday’s aviation computer problem is similar to the outage reported by federal aviation officials less than a week ago.

The FAA’s Web site said the air traffic planning system suffered an outage on Thursday that delayed the departure of at least 134 flights.

The outage in the NADIN occurred at the same Georgia facility where computers went down on Tuesday.


This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • Crystal Aug 27, 2008

    saying it was a communication failure is like saying your modem can't talk to your commputer ... it was a computer failure but everything got routed to other computers and is getting handled.

  • DeathRow-IFeelYourPain-NOT Aug 26, 2008

    "The Federal Aviation Administration says a COMMUNICATION FAILURE at a Georgia facility that processes flight plans for the eastern half of the U.S. is causing flight delays around the country."

    Sounds like Jimmy Carter took Georgia's cups and string to the Democratic Convention.

  • colliedave Aug 26, 2008

    A spokesman for Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world's busiest airport, did not immediate return a call seeking comment on the impact there

    And some idiot reporter honestly thought his/her call would be imediately returned knowing the airport is in crisis mode?

  • Rolling Along Aug 26, 2008

    I have spent too many years in customer service and even some of it the airline industry. That was ONE out of how many thousands od CS reps? Also every story has 3 sides and one of them is the truth. Also "customers" have gotten much more obnoxious than in the past.

  • EZeegoing Aug 26, 2008

    I agree that every airline employee may not have the greatest tact in dealing with the public, however, considering how many inconsiderate travelers they have to contend with I understand their situation. They are dealing with the public and you cannot make everyone happy. As for security, all it takes is one big slip and the airlines fall into another 9/11 situation. I remember 9/11 vividly and appreciate the governments and civilian airline tenacity in preventing another terrorist occurance. Remember, terrorists are out there, waiting for another opportunity to strike. Lets not drop our guard just because some travelers may be delayed at security check points.

  • JAFOinWF Aug 26, 2008

    I'm more scared of the loss of our rights at the airport under the Bush admin than the terrorists. For a good story, take a look at http://www.airlinecomplaints.org/showthread.php?t=1545.

  • Leonardo Aug 26, 2008

    "Would you rather get on a commercial airliner and have it flown into the nearest skyscraper by terrorists ?"

    Answering for JAFOinWF, but my answer is YES YES YES! I would ABSOLUTELY prefer to live in a free country even if that means there's a chance that a terrorist might crash a plane into a building. And even so, the chances of the events of 9/11 happening in our lifetime are remote, since air marshals are an effective and non-intrusive way of dealing with terrorists on hijacked planes, and no passengers are going to just stand by while terrorists fly their plane into a building after what happened on 9/11.

    Sorry, but I place more value in my liberty than in my safety. It's unfortunate that the definition of patriotic has been twisted to mean "willing to give up liberty at the drop of a hat if that's what the government wants".

    "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

  • pinkfemnc Aug 26, 2008

    I am happy I can't fly to Atlanta! I hate Atlanta Airport!

  • raldude Aug 26, 2008

    Sounds like JAFOinWF pushes the limit with airline employees and gets upset when they make him follow the rules.That being said, I am glad today is not a travel day for me. Is JOinWF going to blame the airline employees for this?

  • EZeegoing Aug 26, 2008

    JafoinWF, exactly what do you mean by the following statement ?
    "Between this and the air nazi flight attendants and Gestapo gate attendants, this is why I do not fly anywhere less than 6 hours away."

    Would you rather get on a commercial airliner and have it flown into the nearest skyscraper by terrorists ?