FAA system for pre-flight pilot notices fails

May 23, 2008 6:07:20 PM PDT
The government system that issues preflight notices to pilots about runway, equipment and security issues has been down for at least 12 hours, but passenger safety has not been compromised, the Federal Aviation Administration said Friday. The database has not been able to issue updates or new notices since late Thursday, but pilots have continued to receive any relevant information from local air traffic controllers and through alternate systems, FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said Friday. The system has failed before but service is usually restored more quickly, according to one pilots' group.

All commercial and business jet pilots were alerted of the problem through a related federal system that has continued to collect any notices to airmen, or notams. But until the problem is resolved, the FAA is deferring any scheduled equipment maintenance work that would normally require a notice, Brown said.

Any local airport or airspace issues that arose after the system went down, including storm damage that closed some runways in Houston, were transmitted to pilots by air traffic controllers, Brown said. The system is also used to notify pilots of malfunctioning navigational aids, missile launches and special traffic management programs, according to the agency's Web site. David Castelveter, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association, said the nation's largest carriers are aware of the issue and that "operations are running smoothly."

Pilots were told the FAA database suffered a "disc failure," but should be back up by the end of the day, said Chris Dancy, a spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which supports the general aviation industry and claims to represent two-thirds of all pilots in the U.S. When the notam system went down in the past, the FAA had restored service more quickly than in the current outage, he added.

Brown could not confirm what caused the system to fail just before midnight Thursday, but did say a backup server worked so slowly that the agency opted to take the whole thing down. She could not say when it would return to service.

The FAA owns the server that failed but has support contracts with Science Applications International Corp. and Electronic Data Systems Corp., Brown said. Spokesmen for both companies were not immediately available Friday morning.

While flight safety was never compromised, Brown acknowledged it was fortuitous the system failed so late at night, when there is much less air traffic to manage. She added that traffic also is expected to be down this Memorial Day weekend when many Americans opt to drive instead of fly.