By Maria Jose Subiria
A software problem in the Federal Aviation Adminstration's telecommunications system caused flight delays on Thursday that backed up planes around the country, including at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
According to officials, the problem with one of the routers in the FAA Telecommunications Infrastructure [FTI], in Salt Lake City, Utah, started at about 5 a.m., and was fixed at approximately 9 a.m.
FAA officials said the software-configuration problem caused FAA services -- used primarily for air-traffic flow and flight planning -- to be electronically unavailable.
Kathleen Bergen, manager of external communications and public affairs at the FAA, said the FTI is FAA's telecommunications system, through which a lot of air-traffic data is transmitted. The problem disrupted the transmission of data, which forced air traffic controllers to enter air traffic data manually.
The National Airspace Data Interchange Network, which relies on FTI to process flight planning, was also affected by the outage of FAA's telecommunication lines, officials said.
"Air-traffic-control radar coverage, and communication with aircraft, [were] not affected," said Bergen. "We are investigating the cause of the outage. The FAA has contingency plans in place that allows the system to operate safely when we experience problems such as this."
FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt is meeting with representatives from Harris Corporation, the company that administers FTI, to discuss the system's malfunction, how to correct it, and how to prevent outages in the future, said FAA officials, in a written statement.
According to Bergen, the telecommunications outage in Salt Lake City had a ripple effect on airports across the nation, and Hartsfield-Jackson, the world's busiest airport, had significant flight delays.
"Hartsfield-Jackson officials are monitoring the situation regarding the FAA's automated, flight-plan system," said Katena Carvajales, media relations manager for Hartsfield-Jackson. "The airport is working to minimize the impact on customers, by bringing in additional staff, and ensuring that all facilities are operational and fully maintained," she said.
According to Cynthia Tinsley-Douglas, corporate communications manager for AirTran Airways, the airline had approximately 44 cancellations and dozens of delayed flights.
The airlines were hopeful that operations would be restored to normalcy by the afternoon, but they were still dealing with the after-effects of the FTI outage, said Tinsley-Douglas.
"We are being affected system-wide, but because this [Hartsfield-Jackson] is our largest hub, and there are so many connecting flights out of Atlanta, the impact of the computer outage is affecting flights throughout the system," she said.
Delta Air Lines officials could not be reached for comment on Thursday.