What do 45,000 flights, 2.9 million passengers and over 29 million square miles have in common? They comprise the U.S. national airspace system (NAS), the transportation network brought to its knees Wednesday as the Federal Aviation Administration ordered all domestic flights to pause operations following an outage of its Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system.
In what could turn out to be one of the FAA’s most reacted-to Twitter threads, the agency tweeted multiple times that the system underwent an overnight outage, saving an explanation of what NOTAM even was until 8:13 a.m.
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All flights currently in the sky are safe to land. Pilots check the NOTAM system before they fly. A Notice to Air Missions alerts pilots about closed runways, equipment outages, and other potential hazards along a flight route or at a location that could affect the flight.— The FAA ✈️ (@FAANews) January 11, 2023
According to the FAA, the NOTAM system exists to notify pilots of abnormalities in the NAS, concerning such things as changes in facility service, special procedures or hazards, all comprising a notice of essential information for said pilots. As the explainer tweet alluded to, pilots will check the system in order to plan for just about anything that could affect their flight, with the FAA recommending that pilots check as far as 25 miles to either side of their route in order to ensure relevant information comes their way.
It was agreed upon in 1947 to begin using NOTAM systems, at the time referred to as Notice to Airmen systems, which were modeled after Notice to Mariner systems for ship captains, according to the FAA. Additionally, the NOTAM system in use across the NAS comes with a specialized language of contractions in order to simplify communications, the agency states.
The FAA’s concern with an inoperable NOTAM system comes with the risk of safety violations without it.
The agency’s messaging Wednesday morning reassured passengers that its pause of domestic flights was in order to “allow the agency to validate the integrity of flight and safety information,” holding to its expectation that flights would resume at 9 a.m. ET. The ground stop was eventually lifted before 9 a.m.
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