U.S. FAA Revokes Access To System For Contractors Involved In Computer Outage

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) told lawmakers on Wednesday that it had revoked access to a pilot messaging database to contractor personnel involved in a file deletion that led to the first nationwide groundstop since 2001.

Last week, the FAA said it had found contract personnel “unintentionally deleted files” disrupting the Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) messaging system that led to a Jan. 11 groundstop disrupting more than 11,000 flights.

It was the first nationwide groundstop since the Sept.11, 2001 al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington.

The FAA in an email to lawmakers seen by Reuters identified the contractor involved as Bethesda-based Spatial Front.

“All personnel from Spatial Front directly involved in the deletion have lost access to FAA buildings and systems while we complete our investigation,” the FAA email to lawmakers said.

The company did not respond to an email from Reuters late Wednesday. The NOTAM system provides pilots, flight crews and other users of U.S. airspace with critical safety notices.

The FAA said the deletion occurred while personnel were working “to correct synchronization between the live primary database and a backup database.”

On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to establish an FAA task force to improve the NOTAM database. “The recent NOTAM system meltdown highlighted a huge vulnerability in our air transportation system and underscores the need to address the leadership vacuum at FAA,” said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Sam Graves.

Representative Rick Larsen, the top Democrat on the Transportation Committee said “the traveling public should be able to reach their destinations without system outages derailing their flight due to outdated technology.”

Separately, Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen plans to meet with lawmakers Thursday, sources told Reuters. The FAA has been without a permanent FAA administrator since late March.

Earlier in the day, the FAA said some NOTAM users reported slower response times but said the system remained “online and operational.” U.S. airlines told Reuters they saw no flight impact from any NOTAM issue Wednesday.

(Reporting by David Shepardson)