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FAA contractor unintentionally deleted files before outage that disrupted flights

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An American Airlines Airbus A319 airplane takes off past the air traffic control tower at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, January 11, 2023

Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

The Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday that a contractor unintentionally deleted files before an outage of a pilot-alert system that delayed hundreds of flights last week.

“A preliminary FAA review of last week’s outage of the Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system determined that contract personnel unintentionally deleted files while working to correct synchronization between the live primary database and a backup database,” the FAA said. Spokespeople for the agency didn’t provide further detail.

Those notices give pilots safety information similar to runway closures.

The FAA reiterated that it hasn’t found evidence of a cyberattack or “malicious intent” and that it continues to be investigating what occurred.

The agency said it updated lawmakers on its investigation on Thursday. Lawmakers from each parties demanded answers about technology vulnerabilities within the U.S. aviation system.

Airline executives complained about inadequate funding and staffing for the FAA.

“I lay this on the indisputable fact that we aren’t giving them the resources, the funding, the staffing, the tools, the technology they need,” Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said on “Squawk Box” on Friday. “Hopefully this will probably be the decision to our political leaders in Washington that we want to do higher.”

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said on the corporate’s earnings call on Wednesday the outage and resulting travel chaos “must be a wake-up call for all of us in aviation, something a lot of us in aviation have been saying for a very long time…the FAA needs more resources.”

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