Solar Storms May Have Had Impact On America’s Flight Shutdown

( Airline traffic ground to a halt last Wednesday after a NOTAM communications system crash forced the Federal Aviation Administration to halt all flight departures from the US just after 7:00 am ET.

While the NOTAM system is separate from air traffic control, it is still considered a “vital safety system” in airline travel. Before a flight can take off, pilots and airline dispatchers review notices, including details about the weather, runway closures or construction, or other information that could affect the flight through the NOTAM system.

But last Tuesday night, the NOTAM system stopped accepting new or updated information, according to the FAA. The agency switched to using a phone line for updates during the night but stopped after increased daytime air traffic overwhelmed the phone system.

Flights were allowed to resume about two hours later after the system was restored, by the end of last Wednesday, more than 2,800 US flights were canceled and over 9,700 were delayed.

Unsurprisingly, speculation as to the cause of the system crash ran wild, with some in the media suggesting that the crash could have been the result of a cyberattack by Russia or China. Others wondered if the series of solar flares reported last Tuesday could have disrupted the system.

While solar storms and flares do have the potential to fry every piece of electrical equipment on the planet, the glitch in the NOTAM communications systems wasn’t caused by last week’s solar flares. Nor was it the result of a Russian cyberattack.

Instead, the NOTAM system crash was caused by human error.

In a statement released by the FAA late Thursday night, the agency said that after conducting a preliminary analysis of the NOTAM system, it determined that a data file had been “damaged by personnel who failed to follow procedures.” The FAA said that by Thursday, the system was fully functioning and flight cancellations had fallen below 1 percent.