Air Travel in Jeopardy: The Dangers of Outdated Technology and Systemwide Failure

Following the national shutdown of air travel earlier this week, it has become abundantly clear that the technology behind air travel is woefully inadequate.

What’s the Deal?

It’s not necessarily the airlines’ fault that air travel IT systems are so out of date and faulty. It’s actually the fault of bureaucrats who have deferred maintenance and updates to the system. American passengers may not have been privy to these issues before, but after Southwest’s systemwide failure in peak travel season and the FAA’s grounding of all U.S. flights a couple of days ago, it’s getting harder and harder to ignore.

The FAA incident started when a pilot discovered a corrupted file in his advisory system that would be responsible for issuing warnings of any hazards that could affect a flight. The corrupted file was also discovered in the FAA’s backup system. A reboot was attempted, but officials were not successful in bringing it back online by the time rush hour hit on the East Coast.

A U.S. official assured the media that there was no evidence of foul play.

“The FAA is continuing a thorough review to determine the root cause of the Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system outage,” the agency said on Wednesday. “Our preliminary work has traced the outage to a damaged database file. At this time, there is no evidence of a cyberattack. The FAA is working diligently to further pinpoint the causes of this issue and take all needed steps to prevent this kind of disruption from happening again.”

It was later revealed that the file was corrupted accidentally by personnel who were not following proper procedures.

Bring Air Travel Into the 21st Century

Although planes themselves have been upgraded throughout the decades to stay up to date with technology and safety features, the technology behind air travel is still decades old. The software that failed this time was around 30 years old and was still at least six years away from getting an update.

In the aftermath of the shutdown, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has announced that the timeline for updating the software will be accelerated. Back in 2012, the FAA intended to replace legacy voice switches with more modern, internet-based technology. However, contracting disputes caused them to decide to push it off until at least 2030.

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