The Federal Aviation Administration lifted its nationwide halt of departing planes on Wednesday morning after a technology outage delayed thousands of flights, but airlines warned the issue will continue to disrupt travel throughout the day.
The FAA said early Wednesday domestic departures would be paused until at least 9 a.m. ET while the agency worked to restore the Notice to Air Missions System, which is responsible for sending messages to all pilots, such as about closed runways, hazards and other information.
All flights currently in the air were safe to land, the agency said.
Later Wednesday, Canada’s air navigation agency said its similar notification system experienced a brief outage, but said no flights were delayed as a result. That system was restored by approximately 2:15 p.m. ET.
The FAA’s outage was the second major air travel disruption in less than a month. Winter storms derailed holiday travel in December, and Southwest Airlines buckled from all the changes.
More than 7,500 U.S. flights were delayed as of 1 p.m. ET on Wednesday, according to flight-tracker FlightAware. Residual delays could last hours from the backup.
For example, Delta flights destined for Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Boston and New York’s LaGuardia Airport, each were halted beyond the nationwide groundstop, the FAA posted on its website.
A ground stop was in place for American Airlines at its Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport hub until 12:30 p.m. ET, the FAA said.
United told pilots it was reserving seats for commuting crews so they wouldn’t have to rely on stand-by travel to reach assignments.
More than 1,100 U.S. flights were canceled on Wednesday. There were more than 23,000 flights scheduled to, from and within the U.S., according to aviation data firm Cirium.
Several airlines waived change fees and fare differences for travelers affected by the outage.
The White House said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg had briefed President Joe Biden on the outage.
“There is no evidence of a cyberattack at this point, but the President directed DOT to conduct a full investigation into the causes,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a tweet.
Wednesday’s FAA issue added to concern from Washington from both Republicans and Democrats, particularly about technology that the complex U.S. air system relies on.
“As the Committee prepares for FAA reauthorization legislation, we will be looking into what caused this outage and how redundancy plays a role in preventing future outages,” Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, said in a statement Wednesday. “The public needs a resilient air transportation system.
Airlines and the Transportation Department last year frequently blamed one another for hundreds of flight disruptions that hit travelers, particularly in the spring and summer. Airline executives complained that insufficient air traffic control staffing was partly at fault for the disruptions, while Buttigieg blamed airlines for their own inadequate staffing.
The incident comes just weeks after bad weather during the busy holiday travel period prompted mass flight disruptions across the U.S. and days later, more than 15,000 Southwest flight cancellations after the carrier’s internal systems were unable to process all the schedule changes.
Southwest proactively canceled some flights to avoid further disruptions on Wednesday. As of midday, 375 of its flights were canceled, or 9% of its schedule, while close to half, more than 1,800 were delayed, according to FlightAware.
Roughly a third of Delta’s and United’s mainline flights were delayed, while about 40% of American’s were running late.