'A huge vulnerability': lawmakers vow probe of FAA outage grounding thousands of flights

WASHINGTON– Congress plans to investigate the Federal Aviation Administration's computer outage that sparked outrage from Republican lawmakers who blamed the Biden administration for the more than 7,300 cancelled flights Wednesday.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who chairs the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee which oversees the aviation industry, said the her panel plans to examine how the computer glitch happened as part of Congress' planned review and reauthorization this year of the nation's aviation system.

"As the Committee prepares for FAA reauthorization legislation, we will be looking into what caused this outage and how redundancy plays a role in preventing future outages," she said. "The public needs a resilient air transportation system.”

A message board shows departures at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Va., on Wednesday, Jan. 11. 2023. A computer outage at the Federal Aviation Administration brought flights to a standstill across the U.S. on Wednesday, with hundreds of delays quickly cascading through the system at airports nationwide.
A message board shows departures at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Va., on Wednesday, Jan. 11. 2023. A computer outage at the Federal Aviation Administration brought flights to a standstill across the U.S. on Wednesday, with hundreds of delays quickly cascading through the system at airports nationwide.

The FAA reauthorization legislation, which takes place every five years, extends funding for the federal agency and addresses safety standards, the development of airport capital projects and the certification process for aviation manufacturers.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Wednesday the FFA is "working aggressively" to identify the cause of the outage.

"We welcome the attention from Congress to ensure the FAA has what it needs to address these issues," she said.

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Live updates: Thousands of flights delayed, canceled across US after FAA computer outage

Republicans on the other side of the Capitol called for reforms to be enacted before reauthorizing the FAA legislation later this year. GOP members put the blame on the Biden administration and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg for the outage.

"Don’t remember seeing this many flight delays during the Trump Administration," Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan tweeted.

Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Sam Graves, R-Mo., said the outage highlights a "huge vulnerability" in the air transportation system.

"Just as Southwest’s widespread disruption just a few weeks ago was inexcusable, so too is the DOT’s and FAA’s failure to properly maintain and operate the air traffic control system," he said.

Graves said he will be leading an oversight letter with other members of Congress to ensure lawmakers learn what went wrong, who is responsible and how a similar outage will be prevented in the future.

“I have many questions about what transpired today and I expect the FAA to provide a full briefing to members of Congress as soon as they learn more," Graves said.

More: Flight delayed or canceled? What you need to know and what airlines owe travelers.

What happened?: Experts say old tech could be responsible for FAA outage that caused thousands of delays

Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who serves on the Senate transportation committee, called the outage "completely unacceptable and just the latest example of dysfunction within the Department of Transportation."

"The administration needs to explain to Congress what happened, and Congress should enact reforms in this year's FAA reauthorization legislation," Cruz tweeted.

Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., attacked Buttigieg on Fox News Wednesday saying he was not surprised the transportation secretary does not know what caused the outage.

"What's chilling about this today is the fact that this is happening, it's been going on, we've known about it apparently overnight and he (Buttigieg) has no idea what happened or how they're going to fix it and how long it's going to last," Biggs said. "That is an enormous impact on our economy and travelers today."

What is the NOTAM system? The FAA outage causing flight delays across the US, explained.

US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg speaks at a session during the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow on November 10, 2021.
US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg speaks at a session during the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow on November 10, 2021.

Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C., was in agreement.

"Secretary Buttigieg has been focused more on 'racist roads' than on making sure our transportation is reliable. Which is, you know, his job. He has failed every major test as Transportation Secretary," he tweeted.

Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who sits on the committee said she was "troubled" by the situation.

“And while I appreciate that the FAA worked quickly to try to minimize the disruption to commercial air travel and get planes back in the air, we need to understand what happened today so we can prevent it from ever happening again," the Illinois Democrat said. "The flying public deserves better.”

The top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Washington Rep. Rick Larsen, said he was in close communication with the administration.

"I spoke with Secretary Buttigieg about this development and will continue to monitor this disruption to our air travel system until it is resolved," Larsen said in a statement Wednesday.  

Republican Rep. Garret Graves of Louisiana, who serves on the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said lawmakers will pursue accountability and reforms that will help passengers.

"Air travel logistics are hard enough– we do not need our government making it worse," he tweeted. "The past year has made clear that significant improvements across the aviation system are needed."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Republicans blame Biden administration for airline delays, will investigate