Early Wednesday morning, Jan. 11, 2023, the FAA announced it was shutting down all US air traffic for about ninety minutes to recover from a problem with a system called NOTAM (Notice to Air Missions). NOTAM delivers messages to flight planners and pilots about potential problems along their routes. The system, first developed in the 1920s when cryptic telegrams were state of the art communications, is long obsolete by 2023. Everyone agrees the system needs an overhaul, but consensus on what to do and money to pay for it is hard to find. The system shows all the symptoms of a classic “Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke,” vs. “Release early and often” conflict.
When the NOTAM system went down, the public speculated that somebody may have launched a cyberattack against the FAA. Later Wednesday, the FAA announced via Twitter that the problem was a damaged database file. As of Thursday morning US Central time, rumors about a programmer mistake, or somebody misplacing a file, or a system update gone haywire, or a cyberattack, or others, are all speculation.
As of this writing, no evidence supports any cyberattack theory. Lots of things can damage a database file.
Update: ABC News reported that somebody accidentally replaced one file with another, and that started the sequence of events that shut down air traffic.
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