By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) told lawmakers on Wednesday it had revoked access to a pilot email database from contractor personnel involved in a file deletion that led to the first national ground stop since 2001.
Last week, the FAA said it found contract personnel “unintentionally deleted files” disrupting the Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) messaging system that led to a Jan. 11 ground shutdown disrupting more than 11,000 flights.
It was the first nationwide ground shutdown since the September 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 Space Front.
“All Spatial Front personnel directly involved in the suppression have lost access to FAA buildings and systems while we complete our investigation,” the FAA told lawmakers.
The company did not respond to an email from Reuters on Wednesday evening. The NOTAM system provides pilots, flight crews and other users of US airspace with critical safety notices.
The FAA said the deletion occurred as staff worked “to correct synchronization between the main live database and a backup database.”
On Wednesday, the US House of Representatives passed legislation to create an FAA task force to improve the NOTAM database. “The recent NOTAM system collapse has exposed a huge vulnerability in our air transportation system and underscores the need to fill the leadership void at the FAA,” said the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Sam Graves.
Rep. Rick Larsen, the Transportation Committee’s top Democrat, said “the traveling public should be able to reach their destination without system outages derailing their flight due to outdated technology.”
Separately, Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen plans to meet lawmakers on 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 the system remained “online and operational.” US airlines told Reuters they saw no impact on flights from a NOTAM issue on Wednesday.
(Reporting by David Shepardson)