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FAA system outage more likely ‘related to migrations, adjustments’ than hackers: Analyst | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #hacker

Bloomberg Intelligence Senior Airlines Industry Analyst George Ferguson joins Yahoo Finance Live to break down the FAA’s NOTAM system failure on Wednesday morning and what could be the cause of it.

Video Transcript


DAVE BRIGGS: Nearly 8,000 flights across the country have been delayed today after a critical FAA system failed in the early morning hours. The Notice To Air Mission alert system, which is used to share real time information with pilots, was back online shortly before 9:00 AM Eastern time when the agency said, quote, “Normal air traffic operations are resuming gradually across the US.”

Here to discuss the fallout is Senior Aerospace Defense and Airlines Industry Analyst for Bloomberg Intelligence George Ferguson. George, nice to see you. This is very concerning because, quite frankly, we don’t very much. The federal government hasn’t really given us an explanation. So I’m left to ask you your theory remaining out there as a possibility of a hack.

GEORGE FERGUSON: Yeah, so, I mean, I guess we’ve heard the federal government say it’s not a hack. I tend to want to believe them. These systems, a number of them, they– they’re always trying to upgrade their older systems that have been migrating over the decades. And so my guess, it’s probably related more to maybe some migration, some adjustments. You know, I think it’s probably more that than a hack or something else.

SEANA SMITH: So, George, clearly, massive issues here at hand. And certainly, we need to see an upgrade here in the system. Talk to us just about what that entails and how long something like that would typically take.

GEORGE FERGUSON: Oh, I mean, this is something you’re not going to fix in months. It’s going to be– again, my guess is that this is a system that’s been migrating for decades, and it’s going to continue to migrate over time. You fix parts of it that don’t work well. Some of the noise I’ve heard from the marketplace is, in fact, that maybe there was some recent changes to the NOTAM system, and they could have been the reason why it went down today.

And I think you have to remember, too, the NOTAM system is something where information is put in from around the nation from flight service centers about problems that might be closed airspace or equipment at an airport that may be inoperable that would make flight a little less safe. And so it’s got to be collected from around the country, brought to a repository, and then sent back out around the country to pilots that will be flying to those locations.

So it’s a pretty complex system. And my guess is that, out of an abundance of caution, they probably shut the whole system down because you want to make sure it’s all working because you don’t want to miss one little piece. You could have, again, an unsafe flight. You don’t want that.

DAVE BRIGGS: I’m sure it was disconcerting, to say the least, for passengers aboard flights that were seeing what was happening at ground stop and told, hey, you can land, no problem, but no planes can take off. Why is that?

GEORGE FERGUSON: Well, I mean, I think, obviously, once you’re in the air, you can’t stop the flight. And so then that’s a function of just bringing that airplane back into an airport. And I think once you enter air traffic control and communications with the tower, they can let you know whether or not there’d be any anomalies in the ground that you need to be aware of to be landing the airplanes. Again, I think that this was a story about safety. And out of an abundance of safety, they shut US airspace down. Air travel has become increasingly safer decade over decade. And I think– you know, so I think at the end of the day, that’s what we should all be more focused on than the delay.

SEANA SMITH: George, is there anything to say that something like this couldn’t happen then again very soon while we do wait for some of these systems to get updated?

GEORGE FERGUSON: Yeah, I mean, these things are always– can always rear their head. And, look, we saw some problems at airlines over the Christmas holiday at Southwest where a system broke down. They’re always working on them. They’re always fixing them. So there could be more in the future. I would bet that we’re going to have plenty of challenges in the business in 2023.

It’s a hard business. There’s a lot of variables inside the business, weather being one of the most important variables. And weather will knock out operations– or hurt operations, and so, systems have to get around that. So I would anticipate more problems. But again, I think it’s a story about safe operations. And I think that was the important part of the story today.

DAVE BRIGGS: Yeah, I do want to get quickly your take on Southwest Airlines. They were the most impacted. According to FlightAware, 49% of their flights delayed. That’s more than anyone in their space. Do you get a sense they have started to put together what went wrong and started to fix that computer system? Are they going to be ready the next time a perfect storm rolls around?

GEORGE FERGUSON: Southwest is a very good operator. It was very surprising to see what happened over the Christmas holiday. I am absolutely sure they are working hard to make sure that doesn’t happen again. They’re one of the largest airlines in the country. So it’s no surprise that they were one of the most affected from this outage. But I guarantee you, they’re working on that problem. And I guarantee it will get better.

SEANA SMITH: Certainly a story that we are going to continue to follow. George Ferguson, thanks so much for joining us here.


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