The Federal Aviation Administration suffered a "widespread" computer malfunction Thursday morning, sending key parts of the national air traffic control system haywire and affecting Logan International in Boston, Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, and all three major airports in New York. Authorities said the pilots were having trouble retrieving flight plans. CNN reported that the same system -- the National Airspace Data Interchange Network -- also failed last year. All flight plans were routed through Salt Lake City. Inclement weather was also delaying flights in the Northeast. According to the FAA, the computer system has been brought back online.
"The FAA has not seen a meltdown like this in years," a Continental Airlines (CAL) pilot told his passengers, CNBC's Becky Quick reported from a plane stuck at the gate at Newark Liberty International Airport. Quick said the pilot told passengers the system "completely melted down" today at 5 a.m. EST, forcing airline personnel to fill out flight plans by hand.
"We are having a problem processing flight plan information," FAA spokesperson Kathleen Bergen said in a prepared statement. "We are investigating the cause of the problem. We are processing flight plans manually and expect some delays."
There were 3,600 flights in the air nationwide at 9 a.m. EST Thursday. As the malfunction caused ripple effects at airports throughout the country, it became clear that the financial cost of the meltdown would be in the many millions of dollars.
The computer malfunction didn't actually affect air traffic control systems, Bergen said, but prevented pilots and crews from seeing flight plans, grounding planes.. Controllers had "radio coverage and communications with planes," Bergen said. Some airline personnel had resorted to filing out flight-plans by hand and faxing them to their destinations.
AirTran Airways (AAI) spokesman Christopher White told MSNBC there was no danger to flights in the air. AirTran had canceled 22 flights and delayed dozens more as of 8 a.m. EST.
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta was closed to all arrivals until 10 a.m. EST time Thursday morning, which significantly impacted Delta (DAL), which is based at the Atlanta hub. Many other flights around the country were also disrupted.
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