CLT flights grounded due to FAA computer system glitch

CHARLOTTE — A computer failure at the Federal Aviation Administration impacted flights across the U.S., grounding domestic flights until 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Across the country, flights were delayed and canceled, including more than 500 delays and 100 cancellations at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

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Passengers at Charlotte Douglas told Channel 9′s Hannah Goetz they spent much of the day waiting -- and waiting.

“It’s a company-wide vacation, we hit our goal,” Carrie Brennan said. “Super happy about it. We are all going to Cabo and the flight got delayed.”

The group of 60 coworkers is traveling from Philadelphia to Cabo. The flight delay made them miss their connection in Charlotte.

Earlier Wednesday, Channel 9′s Gina Esposito went to the hourly deck at the airport after the ground stop was lifted. Even though planes were taking off, problems still remained for travelers.

Kevin Lagreca’s flight to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, was delayed due to the FAA computer failure.

“It was delayed due to the FAA situation. I have a day trip to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and I have a meeting at 2 p.m. It may miss it. We’ll see what happens,” Lagreca said, “If the flight is delayed even further, I’m just going to cancel it and not go to my meeting.”

Wedding woes

Traveler Briana Otto was inconvenienced like tens of thousands of other passengers.

She has been planning her destination wedding set in the Dominican Republic. Wednesday was a travel day.

Otto, her soon-to-be husband and 25 of her family and friends left Des Moines, Iowa Wednesday morning to catch their connecting flight in Charlotte.

“We’re not going to make our connecting flight,” Otto recalled. “They’re like, ‘No, they will push it back’ and they left without us. Being here 20 minutes late, they decided to take off with our seats open.”

The next flight available is Saturday, which is the same day as the wedding.

Their flight is supposed to arrive in the Dominican Republic at noon, with not much time to prepare for the ceremony scheduled at 3 p.m.

“So, we’re hoping (the resort) will work with us and push it back,” Otto said.

Meanwhile, Otto and her wedding party are brainstorming another plan.

The investigation

The system that went down is called the NOTAM system -- Notice to Air Missions.

Before a plane takes off, pilots and airline dispatchers must review the notices, which include details about bad weather, runway closures or other temporary factors that could affect the flight. The system was once telephone-based but moved online years ago.

The system went down overnight and traffic got too dense for controllers to do it manually. So, for the first time since 9/11, a ground stop was ordered.

But the aviation analyst Channel 9′s Madison Carter spoke with said air travel is still one of the most reliable ways to get to your destination.

“Oh, there are always going to be glitches in the system. But in general, air travel is very reliable,” Michael Lowery said. “It’s actually in some ways less stressed now than it was before the last flights. We still have less flights than pre-pandemic.”

The FAA said preliminary indications “traced the outage to a damaged database file.”

There is no evidence it was a cyberattack.

It was the latest headache for travelers in the U.S., who faced an even larger number of daily flight cancellations over the Christmas holiday due to a severe winter storm and a breakdown in crew-scheduling technology at Southwest Airlines.

This is a developing story; check back at wsoctv.com for updates.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Madison Carter

Madison Carter, wsoctv.com

Madison is an investigative reporter and anchor for Channel 9.

Hannah Goetz

Hannah Goetz, wsoctv.com

Hannah is a reporter for WSOC-TV.