On January 25, the U.S. House passed a bipartisan bill to improve the FAA’s outdated notice to air missions (NOTAMs) system in order to prevent another mishap like the one on January 11 that resulted in the first nationwide ground stop experienced in the U.S. since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
NOTAMs are a critical component of flight safety used for notifying flight crews of changes in operations such as airport closures, runway use, weather, or restricted airspace. FARs require pilots to review NOTAMs prior to departure.
The January outage wreaked havoc on the national airspace system and disruptions affected millions of travelers. According to FlightAware.com, during the nearly two-hour ground stop, more than 1,300 flights were canceled, and nearly 10,000 were delayed across the U.S.
The FAA said that the outage was caused by a mistake made by a contractor servicing the NOTAM system during routine maintenance, and not by a cyberattack. In a statement, the FAA ensured it “has taken steps to make the NOTAM system more resilient. The agency is acting quickly to adopt any other lessons learned in our efforts to ensure the continuing robustness of the nation’s air traffic control system.”
But the latest incident has led many industry stakeholders and members of Congress to pressure the agency to continue making improvements to the antiquated system.
On Wednesday, legislation introduced by Rep. Pete Stauber (R-Minn.) and co-sponsored by Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.) known as The NOTAM Improvement Act of 2023, overwhelmingly passed by a vote of 424-4. This marks the third time similar language has passed in the House, but has previously stopped short in the Senate.
The NOTAM Improvement Act of 2023 calls for a task force appointed by the FAA Administrator to review and reform the current system. Industry stakeholders including pilots, airline executives, union officials, air traffic controllers, and other computer system experts would make up the task force. The bill also aims to boost NOTAM stability and keep it safe from cyberattacks.
“Failures of the NOTAM system earlier this month stressed the need to upgrade the program to ensure the safety of pilots, their crews, and passengers,” said Stauber. “I’ve heard from many pilots over the years about the vulnerabilities of the NOTAM system and my bill has previously passed the House twice. It’s now time for the Senate to act and pass this important legislation before another failure of the NOTAM system occurs.”
DeSaulnier reiterated that sentiment in a statement saying, “Following the FAA meltdown earlier this month, it is clearer than ever that improvements must be made to our aviation safety systems.”
Passage of the bill comes as Congress is set to reauthorize the FAA’s funding for the next five years. The FAA is continuing to update its NOTAM system and is expected to transition to standards established by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) for completion by 2024.