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FAA System Outage Causing Flight Groundings, Disruptions in U.S.; Relentless Flooding, Mudslides, Powerful Winds Batter California; FAA Pausing All U.S. Departures Until 9A Amid System Outage. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired January 11, 2023 - 07:00   ET




DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to CNN This Morning. See, Poppy and I here in New York, Kaitlan is in Washington. We'll get back to that.

But we are going to begin with this breaking news that's happening right now, the FAA experiencing a system outage. You're looking at live pictures. This is at Atlanta, this is at Hartsfield International Airport there. You see the two planes. Many flights across the country grounded right now.

I want to take you to the scene now, this is in Las Vegas. And now, keep in mind, okay, this is a system that pilots use for any kind of notification. Not clear how many flights are affected or which locations.

We want to get straight now to CNN's Pete Muntean but we're also being told the new information, Pete, as we get to you, perhaps you have information on this, but United has delayed all flights temporarily as well. What is going on here?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: So far, Don, we've heard from two airlines here, American Airlines and United Airlines. United Airlines says it is holding all flights on the ground right now because of this major system outage. It is called the NOTAM system, the notice to air missions system. That means that pilots cannot receive the critical information that they need to take off. These are things that had to do with whether or not runways are open, whether or not certain navigational aids are available to pilots. This is really critical stuff essentially absolving the FAA of some responsibility, making sure the pilots know that these things are not available or things may not be working.

So, we are hearing that the cancelations and delays are going up. So far, the delays have doubled in the last hour. It was 400 earlier today, now, just check FlightAware, we've seen more than 1,100 delays nationwide today. This comes after a really tough winter for air travel. We saw the Southwest cancelations of the late last month over the holidays. We saw briefly an issue with their computer system. The air transportation system can be so fragile at times. It relies on some of these critical systems. And the FAA tells us in a statement it is doing final validation checks right now to make sure that the system will get back online sometime soon.

We have a statement from them. They say they're repopulating the system right now but this is affecting operations across the national airspace system. That has a huge impact on air travel. We don't know the full scope of this just yet. This could have a trickledown effect throughout the day. We will see how quickly the FAA gets to fixing the system.

They have known about this issue at least since late last night. And so they have put on a few notices behind the scenes that we've been able to access, in which the FAA says they've known about this since about maybe as early as 3:00 P.M. yesterday. And so they've been fixing it overnight. We will see if this affects flights throughout the day, but it's not just the morning. We could have a resolution here sometime soon, although the FAA not officially saying that just yet.

LEMON: Well, we know, Poppy, it only takes one glitch and then it's a snowball effect.

MUNTEAN: That's right.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Like Miles O'Brien, Peter, a transportation analyst, Miles, also a pilot himself, said it's like Jenga. You pull one block out and the thing collapses. He had not remembered this every happening specifically with the NOTAM system. Have you?

MUNTEAN: We've seen only micro instances of this happening. Southwest Airlines had a brief outage last week where its system, run by IBM, was not able to deliver weather packets. It's essentially the weather information in text form to their pilots on the airline.

But, yes, I've been around aviation my entire life, I'm a pilot and a flight instructor and I've never seen something like this either. The fact there has been such a meltdown here of the system. So many things can be a lynchpin. And the FAA is working on modernizing these systems.

We have seen what happens when there is a local outage, like in Jacksonville at one of the big air traffic control centers and there, and how that has a ripple effect throughout the system causing flight cancelations and delays. This system is a nationwide system. This goes out to pretty every airplane that is trying to take off. So, the fact that people cannot access this, the pilots cannot access this is really critical and we're seeing the impact right now.

LEMON: All right. Pete, I want you to stand by. This is our breaking news this morning, FAA experiencing a system outage affecting, as you see on the bottom of your screen, causing major flight disruptions in the U.S.

Kaitlan, this is a big issue, as we have been saying. It only takes one thing to go wrong and then the whole system can back up, a ripple effect.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. And to hear Pete talk about how important these notices are for pilots as they are about to takeoff, as you were saying there, Don.

We have Peter Goelz also with us now, who is a CNN Aviation Analyst and the former managing director at the NTSB. So, he's the perfect guest obviously to talk to us about this. Peter, good morning and thank you for joining us.

Talk about how critical these notices are, these notice to air missions that pilots get before they takeoff.


PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, as Pete mentioned, they give pilots the up-to-date information on what's going on at the airport if perhaps a localizer is out, which helps guide airplanes into runways to make safe landings. If that localizer is down, that's noticed, if a runway is closed, if a taxi way is closed.

And there's been accidents in the past, serious accidents, when pilots have not been up-to-date on their NOTAMs, they haven't read them and people die. So they really have to go through this packet of information before they leave the ground. And it's absolutely essential, and the system can be very fragile.

COLLINS: So, it sounds like these notices are basically mission critical to flights.

GOELZ: It runs the whole gamut but they are mission critical. They can tell you that there's going to be increased helicopter activity around the airport today because of something, or it says, runway 3 is being repaved, that this portion will be shut down for two days. And if you don't have that information, it can put you in a very difficult situation.

COLLINS: Yes. Peter, do you think that this -- do you anticipate this could lead to potentially a nationwide ground stop if it's not something that's fixed soon?

GOELZ: Well, it's got to be fixed soon because it will certainly lead to -- if it's down for any kind of prolonged period of time, you're going to have to transmit -- to fly, you're going to have to transmit that information via flight controllers to pilots and that's going to slow the process up. They have to get this fixed quickly.

COLLINS: Okay. Peter Goelz, that is great analysis. Thank you so much for shedding some light on this.

Don, obviously, to see just how much this could have such an effect on what these pilots need to know before they're taking off.

LEMON: All right. Kaitlan, thank you very much.

Let's get back to Pete Muntean. He has some new information for us. Pete, what do you have?

MUNTEAN: We have this new statement, Don, from the FAA, in which it says the FAA is still working to fully restore the notice to air mission system following an outage. While some functions are beginning to come back online, the national airspace systems operations remain limited.

So, it seems that the FAA is on this, they're attacking this, they are trying to get it fixed. We are seeing the delays go up by the moment. That graphic, when we first checked in at the top of the hour, it was in the 1,110 range. We just hit 1,230 delays nationwide.

So far, we're seeing mostly delays, not necessarily cancelations. Airlines are really trying to stem this off hoping that there may be a resolution sometime soon and that they can get their airplanes in the air.

Let's back up and reiterate from where we were at the top of the hour. United Airlines holding all of its flights on the ground right now because of this critical outage of the notice to air missions system. That means pilots cannot get information that they need before they take off. American Airlines also tells us that it's delaying some of its flights and monitoring this by the moment.

So, we will see as this continues as this outage still lingers and the FAA tries to fix this problem. We know that a lynchpin in the system, it failing can have a really big, widespread effect on aviation nationwide. So far, there has not been a ground stop issued by the FAA for flights nationwide. So, people can -- pilots can still get some of this information, it seems, and some flights are still taking off, but out of an abundance of caution, some of these airlines are delaying and canceling flights.

So, this is the information that pilots need that they can take off. These are things like whether or not a runway is in use. Peter Goelz mentioned whether or not a localizer is in or out. You need that to get down to a runway in bad weather so pilots can essentially fly blind. And only in reference to the instruments, if that NOTAM system is out, pilots cannot get the up-to-date information that they need to make sure that they have that critical knowledge.

So, this is a really big outage here. That cannot be understated. And the fact that this is still getting worked on by the FAA and they're still putting out updates is a good thing but we do not have an official estimate just yet on when this will be over. Don and Poppy?

LEMON: Stand by, Pete. Poppy has a question here.

HARLOW: Can we pull up those pictures, guys, in the control room? That was Reagan National, the sun is coming up, Pete, and a whole lot of flights are trying to land. If you're coming in from the west coast and you were just talking about runways, what does this mean for flights in the air trying to land right now?

MUNTEAN: Well, flights in the air, presumably, probably already have some of this information. [07:10:00]

That's terminal two at Reagan National Airport. You can see the control tower there. The sun is coming up. It seems flights like are taxiing, although I've not seen any takeoffs or landings just yet. I've been not able to look at FlightAware to see what the trickledown is on the airport there right now.

It's a huge hub for American Airlines. So, American says it's delaying some flights, presumably a lot of upset people there waiting to get on board planes or they're on board planes and the plane has just not pushed back from the gate just yet. So, we all know that feeling and that's pretty upsetting.

LEMON: If you are going to Newark perhaps, right, which is a United hub --

HARLOW: Just trying to land your plane.

LEMON: -- temporarily. Well, they said they've knew about it since 3:00, so those flights would have information, right? And they can monitor them at the fewer flights in the air. It's better for them because they have a better chance of being able to monitor what's there instead of sending more flights to the air.

Pete, I want you to stand by because I just want to bring in now, it's a person who knows about this national security and so forth, John Miller. John, what happens now?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: So, right now, there's a couple of things going on in parallel. One, at the FAA, their technical people are going behind the computer screens to see what went wrong here, how do we mitigate this, but, two, simultaneously, and they don't wait to kind of figure out are the signs there, they just start, you have got the Department of Homeland Security, CISA, the critical infrastructure protection people, who are starting to work right now and the FBI in their cyber division to say, what's going on in the system and is it something coming from the outside?

And that comes in three brands. There could be hackers who are looking for money, this is the ransomware category. There could be foreign governments where they are testing their capability to infiltrate a system and affect it and may back out knowing that they have that capability. And then, of course, there's the regular technical failure about did something get into the system because of an update or things that we've seen in other large compromises.

Now, to be clear, we're very early in this game and there's absolutely no indication of anything criminal or internationally driven by a foreign power in here and yet those are the wheels that are turning already because it's the kind of thing they have to assess immediately from the beginning.

HARLOW: Let's get -- John, thank you. Stand by with us. Pete is standing by. Kaitlan, you're in D.C. Obviously, the secretary of transportation has got to be all over this. Is he weighing in?

COLLINS: Yes. You just showed Reagan National Airport there in Washington, big questions, obviously here. And we are told Secretary Pete Buttigieg has been in touch with the FAA over this matter. He says just a few moments ago, he was in touch with them about the outage that is affecting this key system that provides safety information to pilots. Pete Buttigieg says the FAA is working to resolve this issue swiftly and safely so the air traffic can resume normal operations. And he says, they will continue to provide updates.

So, it just shows that as this is happening, Pete says it was something they were monitoring overnight, but already the transportation secretary is also in touch with the FAA trying to get this issue resolved so these flights can get back to normal.

LEMON: John, I want to ask you the information from the FAA now and then updates as some functions are beginning to come back online but the agency knows that it's going to take time to resolve. He said, no indication of what you mentioned earlier about the possibilities of a hacked system, so to speak. The fact that some systems are coming back online right now, does that indicate anything to you that it's --

MILLER: I don't think that tells us anything except that the cavalry has come from their I.T. people and they're trying to fix what's causing the system to crash. At the same time, they're diagnosing it. At the same time, they're looking for IOCs, indications of compromise. And these are known signs that come on lists that literally come out every day saying, watch out for this indicator or that indicator because something may be in the system. All of that has to go on at the same time.

And when you see a failure that is this cascading, and then this national, it's one of those things where you really have to go into it saying, let's figure out what it looks like and then let's look behind that and make sure that's what it is.

LEMON: All right. Stand by. I want to get now to Ana Navarro, CNN Contributor and also co-Host of The View. Ana, thanks for joining us. I understand that you are stuck on a plane at Miami International. You just got some news via the overhead there. This is your really weekly, if not, daily commute between Miami and New York. What's going on?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR (voice over): I think most people here don't know what's going on. We're getting very little information as passengers. Most of us are stumbling to the gate at 6:00 A.M., 7:00 A.M. flights. And, frankly, I think it's a good thing that's early in the morning because most passengers here in Miami aren't even energetic enough to be pissed off yet. Everybody is just kind of is sleepily and lethargic waiting for more news.

But all they did, all they made was a very short announcement saying that we don't know when flights are taking off, that the flights are delayed, that it has something to do with FAA, and everything else I'm learning is from listening to you. [07:15:09]

LEMON: Ana, are you on the plane or in the airport?

NAVARRO: No, at the gate.

LEMON: You're at the gate.

HARLOW: This is interesting. Ana, stand by for us. Pete Muntean, if you're still with us, apparently, no flights are delayed into the U.S. from Europe. So Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Charles de Gaulle in Paris, all operating normally. And they said the Amsterdam airport says a workaround has been issued. Can they do that here?

MUNTEAN: Well, that's the question. And that's what we would wait to see if the FAA can figure out another way to make this so that pilots can get the information they need.

The notice to air missions is something that you need to check every time before you fly. I fly, I fly a small general aviation airplane, you can pull it up on your phone even, we have apps that we have to check to make sure that you can get these NOTAMs. You can call on the phone. You can get NOTAMs over the phone through something called Flight Service.

This is not something that all pilots do all the time but airlines must do this. It is in their standard operating procedures. It is also in the regulations for air carriers to be able to check this information. And so we're seeing that some airlines are still operating.

That's the big question here and we're not really able to ascertain why. We're still checking and making rounds, calls to see which airlines are flying and which are not. Two, doing this out of an abundance of caution, we know so far about. American Airlines is delaying flights, United Airlines also holding its flights on the ground.

It seems that Europe operates on a different system when it comes to NOTAMs. So, that could be what we are seeing here. Although the question is whether or not they're able to get full visibility, they're able to see the NOTAMs before they land here in the United States.

So, there are a lot of big questions. It's a little chaotic at the moment because we're just trying to figure out every possible angle of this. So far, we know that the delays are piling up here in the U.S. and we're seeing it go up by the moment. It was 1,230 just a few moments ago. Before that, it was 1,100. About an hour ago, it was only about 400.

So, we will see if there's a nationwide ground stop put into place here as well and that's the other big question.

LEMON: Yes. We are also, Pete, as I just reported here, an FAA update says that some functions are beginning to come back online. But still the agency doesn't know when it's going to be resolved. We're also seeing some planes taking off at some airports -- HARLOW: I just messaged Delta to ask. And, Pete, I know your team is in touch with them too. Like we haven't heard any update from -- are they okay?

LEMON: We did see Atlanta, which is the Delta hub.

HARLOW: That's right.

MUNTEAN: The busiest in the country.

LEMON: But still don't know. But, again, if you're just tuning in, we're seeing flight delays and system outage from the FAA, it's experiencing all over the country. As Pete Muntean, our Aviation Correspondent, we have our national security expert here, John Miller, speaking with us. And we're just trying to figure out what's going on. This breaking news obviously just happening. And Ana Navarro, our contributor, stuck in an airport --

HARLOW: Stuck but happy, as she always is.

LEMON: She said it's too early to get riled up. I won't use the exact language that she used.

So, now what, John, in this situation, monitor the situation and then figure out what caused it?

MILLER: Right. And you're doing both of those at the same time, Don. I mean, first of all, the FAA's job is to get the system up and running again up to its normal speed. And that sometimes can require shutting down the system. It's what we all do at home, rebooting and then looking for where the problem is.

The problem is that's a challenge when you have got planes in the air and planes that are supposed to be getting in the air. But in the background you do have that investigation going on forensically to say what have we seen the system act like in the past 24 hours, does that fit in with indications of compromise or things that we've seen out there attacking other systems, is it happening in other countries and so on.

LEMON: As we're looking, as you're speaking there, we're watching, monitoring Reagan. And there appears to be, just went out of a frame, a plane taking off, taxiing, and it looks like it was taking off and not coming in.

But, again, we are going to continue to monitor the situation. There is an outage with the system, FAA's flight tracking system that pilots need in order to operate. It's causing major disruptions all over the United States. We're on top of the breaking news. We're going to take a quick break, get some new information, gather information and come back to you on the other side.


[07:20:00] LEMON: We are back now here on CNN This Morning with our breaking news. That breaking news is the FAA experiencing a system outage at this hour, system outage, very critical time in the morning when flights -- people start to travel, do their business travel, travel all over the country.

Live pictures now you're looking at Reagan International Airport -- this is Hartsfield. This is Atlanta Hartsfield.

We did see some movement at some airports. The FAA is saying that they have delays all over the country. They're not saying a complete ground stoppage at this point. United airlines, though, says that the outage is affecting operations and they have temporarily delayed all domestic flights and they're going to issue an update soon. The FAA expected to issue an update soon as well.

The system that is out, that is experiencing these problems right now is the one that pilots use for any kind of notification. Not clear how many flights are affected and which locations, but we are on top of it, our Aviation Correspondent and the worldwide resources of CNN, and we will continue to update.

HARLOW: Be patient if you're on the tarmac. We'll get you the latest as soon as we can. But we do want to go to California now, because how much more can this state take. Powerful and deadly storms have already dropped rainfall on the state about 600 percent above average. More is on the way. This morning, more than 6 million people in California are under flood alerts and the wave of punishing weather over the last few weeks has left at least 17 people dead.

Our Camila Bernal joins us live in Santa Cruz, from the central coast. Camila, good morning to you.

I mean, you're on what looks like -- I see a double yellow, so, you're on some sort of road or highway but it looks like a like.

CAMILA BERNAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy, good morning. Streets and homes are still flooded here in this county. And I want to show you how the county is assessing the damage. They're going through the homes and putting these yellow papers. And that means there is significant damage to many of these homes. They say at least 131 have been marked this way. But they're expecting those numbers to continue to go up as they assess the damage.


BERNAL (voice over): California needs water but not like this, creeks turning into raging rivers, mudslides barreling through neighborhoods and sink holes swallowing cars.

JASON HOPPIN, PIO, SANTA CRUZ COUNTY: These storms hit us like a water balloon, exploding and just dropped water down through our rivers and creeks. So it's been this excessive amount of flooding.

BERNAL: Blast after blast of torrential rain and wind gusts exceeding 70 miles per hour on California's central coast. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're soaked. This place is soaked.

BERNAL: The water tormenting people across the state.

CAITLIN CLANCY, FELTON RESIDENT: It was a lot of excitement, fear, anxiety, stress.

BERNAL: Santa Cruz County Tuesday was in cleanup mode after the most recent storm.

CLANCY: It's just brown water everywhere and it's just rushing through. It was going fast. We had a canoe strapped up that we thought if we needed to, we could canoe out but it was moving too fast.

BERNAL: Rachel Oliveira has lived here for 20 years. Her neighborhood and home now covered in mud.

RACHEL OLIVEIRA, FELTON GROVE RESIDENT: It's backbreaking labor and a lot of us that live here in the neighborhood are elderly and can't actually physically do the cleanup.


And with the way that the finances are, with the economy --

BERNAL: At least 17 people have died across California as a result of the storms. Tens of thousands remain under evacuation orders. The onslaught of the s-called atmospheric rivers clearly visible from space.

HOPPIN: It's been these cycles over and over again, this really kind of wearing on the community. We're probably a little over halfway done at this point so we're not out of the woods yet. We have another week or so to go.

BERNAL: There has been little rest for emergency workers, dozens rescued in Santa Cruz earlier this week and a similar story has played out across much of the state. In Los Angeles, union station flooded. And to the north, in Santa Barbara County, crews responding to more than 200 incident calls. And it's not over. Forecasters say four more storms are expected to strike California over the next ten days.

OLIVEIRA: You know, more rain, more flood, more mud, more cleanup, and it's frustrating. I don't know whether to laugh or cry.


BERNAL (on camera): And these residents have told me two things. This is the worst they've seen in many, many years and that it is extremely difficult to do this back-to-back-to-back. As you can see, it is raining right now, so more is on the way.

This is a neighborhood that, yes, it floods sometimes but the neighbors say it recedes. You can see the water is still out here and that's why it's still so dangerous for the many people that live in this area. Poppy, Don? HARLOW: Camila, thank you very much.

I do want to get back to our breaking news, a major update in just the last minute from the FAA. They're ordering all airlines, all domestic U.S. airlines to pause departures until 9:00 A.M. Eastern Time.

Let me read you in full what the FAA says. The FAA is still working to fully restore the notice to air mission system following the outage. The FAA has ordered airlines to pause all domestic departures to 9:00 A.M. Eastern Time to allow the agency to validate the integrity of flight and safety information.

LEMON: John Miller basically just said moments ago.

Let's get some perspective on this. Peter Goelz is CNN's Aviation Analyst and a former managing director of the NTSB. So, you heard the news that Poppy -- Peter, good morning t you -- just read, FAA announcing it's ordering all domestic departures on hold until 9:00 A.M. to validate the integrity of flight and safety information. What say you?

GOELZ: Well, it's pretty extraordinary and it just underscores what some of the others have mentioned this morning, the fragility of the system. If this goes down, the whole system comes to a halt and it cascades throughout the day.

Pilots have to have this information. They need to know whether the approach patterns that they're using are fully functional. They need to know what's going on at individual airports, whether taxi ways are closed, whether runways are closed. I mean, this is essential flight information that every pilot has to receive and check before they go on a mission and fly passengers. So, this is a pretty big deal.

HARLOW: A huge deal. I just want to be clear for our viewers, Pete, domestic departures. So, with all your experience, would this impact landings at all?

GOELZ: Well, of course, it does because sometimes the notifications are directed towards the approach patterns. Every airport has multiple approach patterns from the north and the south, and on occasion, some of these approach patterns have more precise landing navigational equipment. If some of that equipment is not functioning or is offline for maintenance, pilots need to know that so that they're not coming -- using those approaches during heavy weather. So, it really is essential information.

HARLOW: Forgive me for interrupting, Peter, but you have got to get these planes down at some point. I mean, you have got a lot of red eyes that would be coming from the West Coast to the East Coast. We know Europe has not closed down any of their major takeoffs and many of those flights are coming to the U.S. So, what do you do?

GOELZ: Well, planes in the air are going to have to be in close communications with their air traffic controllers. It's going to put -- you know, the air traffic controllers are going to be asked to take on, you know, a greater informational role. They're going to have to pass on the information about outages and special conditions at the airports that they're controlling to the pilots.