Ground Stop on US flights Lifted After System Failure Prompts FAA to Order Pause on Departures

The affected system sends flight hazards and real time restrictions to pilots.

The ground stop and Federal Aviation Administration systems failures Wednesday morning that impacted thousands of flights across the U.S. appear to have been the result of a mistake that occurred during routine scheduled systems maintenance, according to a senior official briefed on the internal review.

An engineer “replaced one file with another,” the official said, not realizing the mistake was being made. As the systems began showing problems and ultimately failed, FAA staff feverishly tried to figure out what had gone wrong. The engineer who made the error did not realize what had happened.

“It was an honest mistake that cost the country millions,” the official said.

Earlier Wednesday, the FAA said normal operations were “resuming gradually” after ordering a nationwide pause on all domestic departures until 9 a.m. on Wednesday morning following a computer failure that has delayed and canceled flights around the country.

“The ground stop has been lifted,” officials said at about 8:50 a.m. ET. “We continue to look into the cause of the initial problem[.]”

Departures were resuming at about 8:15 a.m. ET at two of the nation’s busiest hubs — Newark, New Jersey, and Atlanta — FAA officials said on Twitter, adding, “We expect departures to resume at other airports at 9 a.m. ET.”

The affected Notice To all Air Missions, or NOTAM, system is responsible for sending out flight hazards and real time restrictions to pilots, administration officials said earlier.

“The FAA is still working to fully restore the Notice to Air Missions system following an outage,” said the FAA announcing the temporary grounding of all planes nationwide. “The FAA has ordered airlines to pause all domestic departures until 9 a.m. Eastern Time to allow the agency to validate the integrity of flight and safety information.”

Had the FAA’s new NOTAM system been in place, redundancies would likely have stopped the cascading failures. With the antiquated system in place, there was nothing to stop the outages, the official told ABC News.

“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,” the FAA said in a statement Wednesday night.

There were still more than 7,300 delays and 1,100 cancellations midday, according to tracking website Flight Aware.

Failures likely due to ‘glitch’

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said a full investigation is necessary to prevent any future mishaps.

“When there’s an issue in the FAA that needs to be looked at, we’re gonna own it, same way we asked the airlines to own their companies and operations,” Buttigieg said during an appearance on CNN Wednesday.

Congressional hearings are expected as is a possible speed-up of system replacement.

On what caused the system meltdown, Buttigieg said that overnight there “was an issue with irregularities in the messages that were going out” — though more needs to be learned on what led to the widespread failure.

MORE: What is NOTAM, the FAA computer system that halted all US flights?

Now we have to understand how this could have happened in the first place. Why the usual redundancies that would stop it from being that disrupted, did not stop it from being disrupted this time, and what the original source of the errors or the corrupted files would have been,” he said.

A senior official briefed on the FAA computer problems told ABC News the software issue developed late last night and led to a “cascading” series of IT failures culminating in this morning’s disruption. As has been reported, the disruption is confined to the commercial side of aviation.

As of now, the assessment is the failures are the result of a “glitch” and not something intentional. All possibilities are being looked at to ensure that the FAA systems were not breached.

The FAA first reported the system failure on Tuesday, according to an internal memo from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency obtained by ABC News.

Notably, the FAA system that failed is overdue for replacement.

The official compared the current outage to the crisis that crippled Southwest Airlines during the holidays: antiquated software overdue for replacement inside a critical IT network. If one thing goes down, the system can become paralyzed.

Click here to read the full article at ABC 7

Florida Judge Declares CDC’s Federal Travel Mask Mandate ‘Unlawful’ and Vacates It

“Our system does not permit agencies to act unlawfully even in pursuit of desirable ends,” writes Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle.

A Florida judge has vacated the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) mask mandate for transportation, calling it an “unlawful” expansion of federal authority.

“Our system does not permit agencies to act unlawfully even in pursuit of desirable ends,” wrote U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, who was appointed during the Trump administration.

Mizelle’s ruling brings an immediate halt to the mandate, though the government could ask the court to stay the judgment while an appeal is made. Under that scenario, the travel mandate—which applies to airplanes, trains, buses, and subway systems—could return.

In either case, it’s not clear how much longer the CDC planned to keep the mandate. It was initially set to expire today, but the agency extended it for two additional weeks. Given that the air quality on airplanes is highly filtered, the CEOs of major airlines have testified that the mask requirement is unnecessary for their industry.

“It makes no sense that people are still required to wear masks on airplanes, yet are allowed to congregate in crowded restaurants, schools and at sporting events without masks, despite none of these venues having the protective air filtration system that aircraft do,” wrote the CEOs of all major airlines in a letter to the Biden administration.

They certainly have a point. It’s difficult to imagine that unmasked travelers and commuters are at significantly greater risk of catching COVID-19 than unmasked restaurant and gym customers: There’s much less talking and heavy breathing on an airplane than there is at a bar—but the latter has practically no masking requirements at this point in the pandemic. In most respects, people are now free to decide for themselves what their personal risk tolerance is with respect to COVID-19 and behave accordingly.

In her decision, Judge Mizelle chided the CDC for taking shortcuts and exceeding its own statutory authority. Under the law—specifically, a federal law known as the Administrative Procedures Act—the agency is required to submit new policies for outside review and comment. The CDC declined to do this, arguing that any delay in implementing the mandate would cost lives. The agency also maintained that the mandate was not a new rule but, rather, a clarification of previous guidance relating to “sanitation.”

Mizelle was unpersuaded, however, that the Public Health Service Act of 1944—the law the CDC cited as giving the agency the power to take such actions—considered disease prevention to be a form of sanitation.

“Wearing a mask cleans nothing,” wrote Mizelle. “At most, it traps virus droplets. But it neither ‘sanitizes’ the person wearing the mask nor ‘sanitizes’ the conveyance. Because the CDC required mask wearing as a measure to keep something clean—explaining that it limits the spread of COVID-19 through prevention, but never contending that it actively destroys or removes it—the Mask Mandate falls outside of [applicable law].”

Click here to read the full article at Reason

Personal drones remain free to fly the CA sky

DronePublic and private interests have combined in California to discourage statewide legislation regulating the use of personal drones, putting the prospect of new rules on ice indefinitely.

Gov. Jerry Brown went out of his way to sink prior legislation that would have applied a layer of state law to California drone operators. “But not every governmental authority feels that it has enough power to deal with drones,” as the San Francisco Chronicle noted. “An increasing number of California cities, worried about the safety and privacy of their citizens, have passed laws restricting drone use. The result is a patchwork, and one that might be thoroughly cleared up with state legislation. But this year, it seems highly unlikely that legislation will even make it to the governor’s desk.”

0 and 2

Supporters of the rules Brown vetoed had hoped to find a way forward. But this year, “the pushback to new rules is coming not from the governor but through the lobbying efforts of a budding industry that hopes to influence policy at the state Capitol and nationwide,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

“As drones multiply in number and category, cities and states want to set boundaries. But drone manufacturers and associations this legislative session boosted their politicking, successfully beating back several bills they said would create a patchwork of laws that vary by state and hinder innovation.”

Although each bill initially passed, both were killed off in committee. “Senate Bill 868 failed on a vote in the Assembly Privacy and Consumer Protection Committee, while Assembly Bill 1820 was voted down by the Senate Judiciary Committee,” as the Electronic Freedom Foundation, which opposed the legislation, enthused. With consumer interest in drones growing and going mainstream — the gadgets can now readily be acquired online or in big box stores like Target or Best Buy — lobbyists would appear to have public opinion on their side, at least until the volume of drones in the skies reaches a considerably greater size.

Fire focus

The impact of drone law on the Golden State has come under greater scrutiny this summer as a grueling fire season has dangerously attracted amateur operators. As CNBC recently reported, “Firefighters battling the Sand Fire in Southern California had to shut down aerial firefighting operations for about 30 minutes after an unauthorized drone entered airspace that the FAA put under temporary restriction due to the active wildfire.” To the frustration of firefighters nationwide, wildfire intrusion incidents involving drones have “more than doubled from 2014 to 2015,” the network noted, citing the U.S. Department of the Interior.

To address the problem, the federal government has taken the first step toward a comprehensive new approach. The Interior Department recently rolled out a “national system intended to prevent hobby drones from interfering with planes and helicopters fighting wildfires,” the Associated Press noted, with a pilot project offering a “smartphone app and real-time wildfire information to create virtual boundaries, or geofences, that drones can’t cross.”

The Interior Department partnered on the project with drone navigation data companies AirMap and Skyward and the leading manufacturer of civilian drones, DJI, opening up its Integrated Reporting Wildland-Fire Information database. Through the new program, “information contained in the database is immediately pushed to drone pilots through apps on their smartphones, with the smartphones themselves typically used to navigate in combination with the drone’s GPS,” according to the AP.

A California edge

In fact, the onset of new federal regulations around drone usage has helped strengthen California’s lead in drone technology and performance. As the California Council on Science and Technology recently observed, “The new rules on commercial drone usage allow farmers to use drones to help more precisely monitor water usage, allowing more efficient use of water.” In the interest of pushing similar functions ahead, the Tesla Foundation has partnered with the San Bernardino International Airport to launch a national center for commercial drone research, the National Commercial Drone Research Center, the CCST reported.

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