By Michelle Chapman
NEW YORK (AP) — The Federal Aviation Administration is lifting a ground stop on flights across the U.S. following a computer outage early Wednesday that resulted in thousands of delays and hundreds of cancellations quickly cascading through the system at airports nationwide.
The FAA ordered all departing flights grounded early Wednesday morning, but lifted that order just before 9 a.m. Eastern after several hours.
However, delays and cancellations continue to snowball.
Delta Airlines, based in Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, have delayed some 500-plus flights, while cancelling a little more than a dozen others.
As of 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, more than 4,700 flights were delayed and more than 700 were cancelled.
The stop order by the FAA impacts almost all flights of shippers and commercial airlines.
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.
Some medical flights could get clearance and the outage did not impact any military operations or mobility.
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.
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.
Biden addressed the FAA issue Wednesday before leaving the White House to accompany his wife to a medical procedure at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center outside of Washington. He said he had just been briefed by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who told him they still had not identified what went wrong.
“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.”
Buttigieg said in a tweet that he is in touch with the FAA and monitoring the situation.
The FBI did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.
Delays were concentrated along the East Coast, but they are spreading quickly to the West Coast.
The FAA said it was working on restoring its Notice to Air Missions System.
“We are performing final validation checks and reloading the system now,” the FAA said. “Operations across the National Airspace System are affected.”
The agency said that some functions are beginning to come back on line, but that “National Airspace System operations remain limited.”
Julia Macpherson was on a United Airlines flight from Sydney to Los Angeles on Wednesday when she learned of possible delays.
“As I was up in the air I got news from my friend who was also traveling overseas that there was a power outage,” said Macpherson, who was returning to Florida from Hobart, Tasmania. Once she lands in Los Angeles, she still has a connection in Denver on her flight to Jacksonville, Florida.
She said there have been no announcements on the flight about the FAA issue.
Macpherson said she had already experienced a delay in her travels because her original flight from Melbourne to San Francisco was canceled and she rebooked a flight from Sydney to Los Angeles.
The FAA is working to restore what is known as the Notice to Air Missions System.
Before commencing a flight, pilots are required to consult NOTAMs, or Notices to Air Missions, which list potential adverse impacts on flights, from runway construction to the potential for icing. The system used to be telephone-based, with pilots calling dedicated flight service stations for the information, but has now moved online.
Breakdowns in the NOTAM system appear to be rare.
“I don’t ever remember the NOTAM system going down like this. I’ve been flying 53 years,” said John Cox, a former airline pilot and now an aviation-safety consultant.
AP White House Correspondent Zeke Miller contributed to this report from Washington, D.C. AP Business Writer Kelvin Chan contributed from London. AP reporter Freida Frisaro contributed from Miami. AP Airlines Writer David Koenig contributed from Dallas.