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All departing US flights grounded after FAA computer outage

About half of flights at Tampa International were delayed as of late Wednesday morning, a spokesperson said.
A Southwest Airlines jet arrives at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix last month.  Flights were being delayed at multiple locations across the United States on Wednesday after a computer outage at the Federal Aviation Administration.
A Southwest Airlines jet arrives at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix last month. Flights were being delayed at multiple locations across the United States on Wednesday after a computer outage at the Federal Aviation Administration. [ MATT YORK | AP ]
Published Jan. 11|Updated Jan. 11

A computer outage at the Federal Aviation Administration forced all departures nationwide to halt Wednesday morning, with hundreds of delays quickly cascading through the system at airports nationwide.

Approximately half of the flights at Tampa International Airport were delayed as of 11 a.m. and 3% of flights were canceled, according to airport spokesperson Emily Nipps.

Across the bay, the FAA issue did not impact St. Pete-Clearwater International “simply due to good timing,” said airport spokesperson Michele Routh. “The ground stop was lifted in time for the late morning flights to depart.”

The FAA ordered all U.S. flights to delay departures until 9 a.m., though airlines said they were aware of the situation and had already begun grounding flights, The Associated Press reported. The ground stop was lifted around 8:50 a.m. and normal air traffic operations were gradually resuming as the FAA continues to look into the cause of the problem.

The delays that affected thousands of flights appear to have been caused by a problem in the Notice to Air Missions system, which sends pilots vital information they need to fly.

The issue comes on the heels of weeks of trouble for the aviation industry across Florida and nationwide. The holiday period saw travelers stranded, luggage lost and festive spirits dampened at Tampa International and airports across the country as passengers faced a torrent of delays and cancellations.

First, Southwest Airlines’ operational meltdown led the carrier to cancel more than 15,000 flights late last month, and the hashtag #SouthwestStoleChristmas began trending on Twitter.

Next, an air traffic computer issue in Miami compounded flight delays and cancellations to and from Florida. And for one day last week, the FAA implemented a delay program for flights to the state due to weather.

Between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, more than 18% of Tampa International flights were canceled.

Luggage seen in a holding area at Tampa International Airport on Thursday, December 29, 2022.
Luggage seen in a holding area at Tampa International Airport on Thursday, December 29, 2022. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

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

The White House said that there is no evidence of a cyberattack involved in Wednesday’s outage, but President Joe Biden has directed the Department of Transportation to investigate the cause of the disruption.

Biden addressed the FAA issue Wednesday before leaving the White House. He said he had just been briefed by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who told him they still had not identified what went wrong, according to The Associated Press.

“I just spoke to Buttigieg. They don’t know what the cause is. But I was on the phone with him about 10 minutes,” Biden said. “I told him to report directly to me when they find out. Air traffic can still land safely, just not take off right now. We don’t know what the cause of it is.”

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Buttigieg said in a tweet that he is in touch with the FAA and monitoring the situation.

Officials at both St. Pete-Clearwater and Tampa International offered passengers evergreen advice in situations like this: Check directly with your airline for any schedule changes before arriving at the airport.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.