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Corrupt software introduced by contractors took down FAA system, officials say

This system, installed in 1993, runs the Notice to Air Missions system, or NOTAM, which sends pilots vital information they need to fly.
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The software that failed and forced the Federal Aviation Administration to ground thousands of flights on Wednesday is 30 years old and not scheduled to be updated for another six years, according to a senior government official.

This system was installed in 1993 and runs the Notice to Air Missions system, or NOTAM, which sends pilots vital information they need to fly, the official said.

After the FAA was able to get planes flying again, a government official said a corrupted file that affected both the primary and the backup NOTAM systems appeared to be the culprit.

Investigators are working to determine if human error or malice is to blame for taking down the system, which eight contract employees had access to. At least one, perhaps two, of those contractors made the edit that corrupted the system, two government sources said Thursday.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told NBC News that he has asked the FAA, "to make sure that there are enough safeguards built into the system that this level of disruption can't happen because of an individual person’s decision or action or mistake."

Travelers walk through a terminal at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Va., was busy Wednesday after an FAA outage canceled and delayed flights.Saul Loeb / AFP via Getty Images

President Joe Biden ordered an investigation after he was briefed Wednesday by Buttigieg.

Tens of thousands of travelers were left stranded Wednesday after the FAA sent out a tweet at 7:20 a.m. ordering the airlines to pause all domestic departures until 9 a.m. ET “to allow the agency to validate the integrity of flight and safety information” as it worked to restore the NOTAM system.

The FAA lifted the ground stop around 8:50 a.m., and normal air traffic operations began resuming gradually. But by then airports across the country were already crowded with frustrated travelers and a backlog of flights.