Airline flights across the country were grounded and delayed last week due to an outage in the Federal Aviation Administration’s Notification to Air Missions (NOTAM) system, which relays key information to flight crews, but A new report from the Congressional Research Service details how officials had known the system needed fixing.
The CRS report notes that the FAA itself requested funds in the 2023 budget to update the NOTAM system.
“In its FY 2023 budget estimate, the FAA itself described the NOTAM repository as ‘failed old hardware’ and requested nearly $30 million to accelerate modernization of the Aeronautical Information Management Program encompassing the NOTAM system,” the report says. , adding that “the system has also been criticized for being arcane and difficult to use and interpret.”
The report also describes how members of Congress were already aware of NOTAM issues, and were trying to do something about it, years before this.
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First, there was the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, a bill that, among other things, called for updates to the NOTAM system, specifically, the creation of a NOTAM searchable database. While that bill passed and became law, other bills failed.
The Notice to Airmen Improvement Act of 2019 sought to fix the NOTAM system by creating a working group to investigate how to improve the presentation of NOTAM information, as well as its accuracy and understandability. The FAA says last week’s outage was the result of a damaged data file when an employee “failed to follow procedures.”
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A similar 2021 bill attempted to do the same. Both passed the House, but the Senate did not vote on either.
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The CRS report predicts the NOTAM system will receive attention in Congress this year, as concerns about it “are likely to feature prominently” when lawmakers debate reauthorization of expiring FAA programs.