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Federal Aviation Administration Issues Ground Stop to All Domestic Flights in U.S. Due to Notification System Failure; President Biden Briefed by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Domestic Flight Ground Stop; White House Unsure whether Flight Notification System Failure Caused by Cyberattack. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired January 11, 2023 - 08:00   ET



DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Thank you for joining us here on CNN THIS MORNING. We are monitoring the major breaking news from here in New York and also Washington D.C. This morning, you're looking at these live pictures now. They're out of airports all across the country, Atlanta, all over the U.S., as major -- another major air travel disruption is happening across the USA. Technical outage forcing the FAA to ground all domestic departures until 9:00 a.m. Check out the scene, this is out of Las Vegas, Nevada. And keep in mind, as we look at these pictures, we'll get them up, this is a system that provides pilots with any pre-flight safety notices.

So as we continue on with the breaking news here, we want to get straight to CNN's aviation correspondent, that is Pete Muntean. He joins us now from Reagan. Pete, good morning to you. Thank you for joining. As we are hearing now, at least from our own David Urban, who is I think at the very same -- he is at the very same airport that you're at. His flight has been canceled. Are we seeing cancellations happening? And are they moving -- the FAA is saying the system is down, or they're checking on the system and they're going to ground everything until 9:00 a.m. Are cancellations starting? And are they going to move back that 9:00 a.m. time that they have put in place now?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are mostly seeing delays right now, Don. I just took a breeze by the departures and arrivals board here at Reagan National Airport. We're seeing the delays go up here. We're also seeing them go up around the country. Just check Flight Aware. The delays keep going up by the moment, 2,500 delays across the country right now.

We've seen that go up by about 1,000 delays in the last hour. Just before 7:00 a.m. it was only 400. So this is a huge, widespread effect nationwide because there is now a nationwide ground stop in place from the Federal Aviation Administration. That means that flights are not able to depart from the airports they are leave from. That is a huge impact, and it's impacting every airline. The airlines are being told to stop all domestic departures because of the system outages. It's behind the scenes at the FAA. It's called the Notice to Air Missions System. It used to be called the Notice to Airmen System. Now it's been changed to Notice to Air Missions. NOTAMS is the term for the acronym.

And that means that pilots cannot get this critical information that they need to take off. These are things like whether or not runways are open or closed, whether or not radio navigational aids that pilots that need to land, whether or not those are in place and in position and working properly.

So this is having a huge ripple affect across the U.S., and the FAA says it is working to deal with this as swiftly as possible. It is trying to repopulate the system, it says, but it says there is no evidence so far of a cyberattack. That's just in from the White House press secretary. We know that President Biden has been briefed about this issue. We know that Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is also in touch with the FAA about this.

Of course, a lot of frustrated passengers at airports across the country. We were seeing some delays, some departures and arrivals earlier today, but now that this nationwide ground stop is in place, that makes it officials, no flights leaving U.S. airports until the issue is resolved. NOTAMS are essentially the thing that pilots need to read before the fly. It's Bible and verse in the federal aviation regulations. There has never been an issue like this in the airspace system that I have seen. I've been flying pilots since 2007, I've been around airplanes my entire life. Both of my parents were pilots, I'm a flight instructor. There has never been something like this in the national air system before. This is a mega impact. It cannot be understated how big of an impact this will have. Even if this is able to be fixed by the FAA soon, there will likely still be a ripple effect. We've seen that behind the scenes.

Think about the Southwest issue just a few weeks ago when they had back end infrastructure issues that caused their schedule to meltdown, and that happened for days and days. So we will see if the FAA is able to get the system back online and what the lingering impact of this will be, Don.

LEMON: And this is the NOTAM system, Notice to Air Missions System. As you've been pointing out, Poppy, this is not the airlines' fault.


LEMON: This is a glitch in the system. This is so big, everyone is monitoring. The White House is monitoring, also the Transportation secretary.

HARLOW: Pete, I just wonder, a lot of folks watch us in the air. So if you're watching CNN and you're in the air right now, can you help people understand if this means anything for their ability to land?

MUNTEAN: The ground stop only affects flights that have not yet taken off. So if flights are already in the air, they should still be able to land.


MUNTEAN: Right, and so the flights that have already taken off, they should be OK. The ground stop only affects planes that are on the ground already, meaning holding them on the ground, that's what a ground stop means, making sure they do not take off.


So this does not have a big impact on flights in the air. And I've been checking some of the flight tracking sites, I've been making sure that flights in the air are still getting through. They're not in holding patterns, they're not being put into those long waiting lines to get into an airport. Things are still getting in, although we will likely see that all come to a halt here in a few moments as this ground stop has now been issued.

HARLOW: They have also got to move some planes out of gates so those landing planes can get to gates to get people off. So I cannot manage what it's like at the airports.

LEMON: The question is now what, right?

HARLOW: Yes, now what. So let's bring in Mary Schiavo, CNN transportation analyst. Mary, you are also, of course people should know the former inspector general for the Transportation Department. We just heard Pete Muntean, this has never happened in America before. So what happens now?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN TRANSPORTATION ANALYST: What happens now is, what really should have been happening all along. Now when the FAA built out, and we're talking several decades ago when the plan hatched and they started building out the system to make everything electronic, a seamless electronic system where you get the information before you fly, which is what a NOTAM is. Think of it as a great big bulletin board in the sky where every airport, every flight route, every piece of information out there about tweaks in the system, what runway is in use, if there are runway lights out, if you have a different minimum you have to follow. If any airport has something that's a little bit unusual from what the typical is in the published approach, for example, you have to check that before you fly. It's one of the several things you have to check before you fly.

So Pete is right. So if the planes were already in the air, they've already checked this, and they can get the information that they need to get safely down by communicating with air traffic control at the in route center. So they can pass the information on to them. But it's a lot of information. Think about that, every piece of information from every airport or every flight route or anything that pilots report can be posted as well. And that was supposed to be run by a big computer system and they were supposed to have three systems, one to be running, one for maintenance, and one for backup.

Over the years it's been very expensive. And by the way, these are supposed to be run by contractors, and the contractors are supposed to keep these up and running at all times. So there's a lot of questions here as who and why this failed. In the olden days when we relied on paper and telephones the flights would go on, because that's how you used to check them. Now it's literally impossible because everything is by computer, and it seamlessly goes into your computerized flight program. And that's why there's so much trouble for this one system being down.

LEMON: Mary, I guess we always wonder what are people thinking about at home now, so if you're at home watching this, what should the folks -- I guess you're just patient? And also, I guess the people in the air, if you have someone in the air, that they're really safe at this moment?

SCHIAVO: The people in the air -- first of all, you're going to be safe because your pilots checked this, the pilot is required by law to check this. Generally, aviation pilots like me, they check this. Everyone checks it before you take off. You're safe in the air and air traffic control will get you down. Why? Because your aircraft and pilots are communicating with air traffic control. The ground stop for people on the ground this isn't good news, but you're on the ground keeping people in the air safe, so nothing happens to them. So people in the air you're all safe.

But people at home are wondering, because anyone who uses computers, which is everybody in the world, wonder if you can have computer bulletin boards for every kind of recipe there is in the world and hundreds of millions of dog pictures and cat pictures, why can't you get your computer bulletin board for airplanes up and running? That's the biggest question of all. Computer bulletin board, which is kind of what this is, not exactly, is not a high-tech operation. So in the past when the FAA has had computer outages -- FAA was caused by a fire at a facility. They've already said this is a problem that they're just -- they're fixing the system and they're rebooting. So we know it's not some kind of -- fire -- but there are a lot of different causes. But this is not -- this is not the most high-tech part of the air traffic control system. Things like collision avoidance and all the scheduling, et cetera, can be more complicated.

But I think in the end we'll find out this was a glitch, programming code, error code, because remember, when the FAA was developing this system, and this was decades ago, they literally had 5 million computer code glitches they didn't quite know how to solve. So things have improved, but even a few lines of code can mess up the system.

LEMON: Mary Schiavo, we want you to stand by. Poppy, new information coming in.

HARLOW: Just hearing from Delta Airlines. Here's what Delta Airlines is saying. Remember, they're one of the biggest airlines, I think the biggest carrier and hub is Atlanta.


Quote, "Delta safely focused on managing our operations during this morning's FAA ground stop for all carriers. We'll provide more updates as soon as we can." They said, in the meantime customers need to use the Fly Delta app, check the status before they get to the airport. So essentially that's them saying, wait. Wait. Wait before you come to the airport. Check the status.

LEMON: So you're not just sitting there. But listen, this is the breaking news on CNN this morning. The FAA announced this morning that it has ordered all domestic departures on hold until 9:00 a.m. Major flight interruptions, basically this is a ground stop here, 1,230 flights happened earlier, now we're up to at least 2,500 -- 3,500 excuse me, 3,500 and counting.

And there's also news from Washington. Obviously, the president of the United States monitoring this as well as the Transportation secretary. And a statement has been released, I would imagine from the White House or from Washington D.C.

And that's why we need to get to Kaitlan with details on that. Kaitlan, what is the White House -- we know that the president is monitoring as well as Pete Buttigieg, the Transportation secretary as well. What's up?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, lawmakers here on Capitol Hill also watching this closely. We have heard from President Biden who says he was just briefed in the last 10 to 15 minutes or so by the Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. So I want to go to CNN's Arlette Saenz. She is live at the White House where President Biden just departed and spoke with reporters. Arlette, what did the president tell you about what they believe is behind what's happening here at the FAA?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kaitlan, President Biden said he spoke to Secretary Pete Buttigieg and that so far they don't know the cause of what has caused these FAA outages. The president said that he has directed them to look into this and that they hope to have a better idea in the coming hours.

The president was also specifically asked whether there were any cyber concerns related to this, and he said that they just simply don't know. And White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a tweet that so far they have not seen any evidence of a cyberattack but that the president has asked the Department of Transportation to conduct an investigation into how exactly this all played out. White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain also said they expect to get further updates from Secretary Buttigieg a bit later this morning.

But clearly this is presenting a huge logistical headache for airlines and so many travelers across the country. It's something the White House will continue to monitor over the course of the day, especially at they try to determine the cause of these outages.

Additionally, I should note, that the president made these comments speaking to us out on the South Lawn as he was departing to travel to Walter Reed. He is accompanying first lady Jill Biden there where she is having a surgery to remove a skin legion from her face that was found during a routing skin cancer screening. So we'll see maybe if the president might have more to share when he comes back from Walter Reed a little bit later this morning.

COLLINS: Yes, we'll be watching it closely. He seemed to say he believed it could be a few hours before they actually know what is behind this, what has caused this system to go down. The president saying flights can still land as of this moment, Poppy, as you were noting there. But saying obviously the issue now is they cannot take off. When you're in this position they have to examine everything. They don't have an indication right now, Don and Poppy, that there's any kind of cyberattack behind this, but the president said we don't know. It's one of those things that they are still trying to figure out more information about it.

LEMON: He told the reporters that the FAA doesn't know what was the cause of the outage, also answered that he didn't know if it was a cyberattack. Of course, when this happens, right, that's one of the first questions that comes about. Kaitlan, we're going to check back in with you. Thank you very much for that.

I can't remember in my time here at CNN anything like this, Pete Muntean as well.

HARLOW: Never, so it's unprecedented. It is, yes.

LEMON: And speaking of what is happening, Gary Tuchman live at Atlanta Hartsfield this morning. Gary, you're in the middle of this. I understand have been monitoring your social media, you've been sending pictures of what's happening in the airport and also the flight boards as well. What are you seeing?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Don, I'm here at the busiest airport in the world, Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. And I report throughout the Sky Club, the Delta Sky Club. It's very crowded, although it's often very crowded in the morning, but more crowded than normal because so many people have a delay this morning. There's no panic whatever. People are used to delays. A lot of people want to know what's going on.

But you look at the board, and I'll show you, this will give you an idea. Every flight before 9:00 has been rescheduled after 9:00 For example, Panama City right here, 8:10 leaving at 9:30, one at 8:42 is leaving at 9:00. I'm using my phone right now, so excuse my photography here. This 8:26 flight is delayed until 9:30, 7:30 delayed to 9:30. So it gives you an idea, every flight on the board that is before 9:00 is scheduled for 9:00 or 9:30 right now. So I will tell you once again, it's often very crowded in the mornings here in Atlanta.


But more crowd than normal lounges. People wait for their flights that have been delayed quite a bit. And hoping for the best, hoping they get to their destinations without much more of a delay.

LEMON: Hey, question for you, Gary. Back to that board, if you don't mind. We're speaking to David Urban, who was stuck at Reagan -- I don't know if he's actually stuck because he never got on a plane. But he's saying his flight was canceled. Are you seeing any cancellations up on those boards, or no?

TUCHMAN: No, that's what's notable. There's zero cancellations on the board. And once again, this is the busiest airport in the world. So, we see no cancellations whatsoever, but just tons of delays till 9:00 or after. But not extensive delays, literally just to 9:00 or 9:30, nothing more than that at all.

LEMON: Gary Tuchman live for us at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport. And this is the first scenes that we've gotten from inside the airports.


LEMON: Gary, if you will, I'd love to go -- for you to be able to go out if you can to see what folks are doing outside at the club.

HARLOW: You're making Gary leave the cushy sky club?

LEMON: Well, it's not so cushy, right?

HARLOW: That's true.

LEMON: It's probably nice to be in there at this moment --

HARLOW: Go report for us, Gary.

LEMON: -- to have some place to go at least, Gary. How far are you from the entrance? Do you have to go up and down stairs, or is the door right in front of you?

TUCHMAN: There's two long escalator down. So, I'll head down one of them.


TUCHMAN: I'm about to go to my plane, which my plane for my story that I'm going to right now, which happens to be in Idaho, by the way, Moscow, Idaho, doing the story on the students going back to school. That's where I'm going right now. It was scheduled to leave at 9:10. So, it's still on time because it's after that 9:00 time.


LEMON: All right. All right. Gary Tuchman live for us at -- in Atlanta Hartsfield, obviously, in Atlanta, Georgia, checking on the information that's coming out of there and what is happening. So far, 3500 flights, it's the latest that we have, and that is probably climbing. We have a system outage, and the FAA is announcing all domestic -- ordering all domestic departures on hold until 9:00 a.m. We are quickly approaching 9:00 a.m. So, we'll see if there is an update soon as we leave you just for this quick break with these pictures at LAX, where we don't see much movement from those planes sitting there on the tarmac at the gates.




PASSENGER: I'm very much so inconvenient. I didn't receive any notification, I kept checking, said there was no flight status, so that everything was OK.


LEMON: That is a passenger at the airport in Cleveland. There is a -- domestic departure is now on hold until 9:00 a.m. And as we have been saying, it's getting close to 9:00 a.m., we'll see if the FAA rescinds that, but basically now, they ordered all flights to be grounded until 9:00 a.m. All domestic departures, I should say, because there's a system down, the system that monitors everything that keeps all the traffic safe, passengers, airplanes, what have you around the country. And so, we're following that.

You're looking at airports all over the country. That's Reagan right there. Airplanes just sitting on the tarmac, most of them at gates, and passengers are either sitting on those planes or they're sitting in the airports waiting, waiting to see if they're going to take off. Pictures now from Los Angeles International Airport, LAX. And we're going to continue to update you throughout the hours here on CNN.

HARLOW: We are. Let's go to our colleague, Athena Jones. She joins us live at Newark Airport. Athena, I was just with you in this office two hours ago, and no one expected you'd be at Newark. But you are, what's the scene there?

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, I can tell you, I want you to look at this board right now. Things are beginning to change here at Newark. The FAA just about a minute ago, sent out an update, update number four, saying they're making progress on restoring this critical information system that pilots need in order to be able to take off safely. Domestically, it's called the Notice To Air Mission System, following an overnight outage. And they said that departures are now resuming here at Newark Airport and at Atlanta -- Atlanta's airport due to air traffic congestion in these areas, and we expect departures to resume at other airports at 9:00 a.m. So, we'll see if that happens.

But I want you to look at this board, you see the orange, the delayed next to these flights. And then you see yellow, check-in open. Just in the last few minutes, some of the earlier delayed flights became -- turned into check-in open. Now, some of these open check-ins are for international flights. We've spoken to several passengers who were checking in for international flights, those were never an issue. But we should begin to expect to see this board changing when it comes to these delays.

And there was another flight, I believe, to Fort Lauderdale, that was able to -- it showed departed as of about 7:15. So, things may be beginning to be resolved here at Newark. There's not a lot of folks in this terminal. This is partly international flights, partly domestic flights. And you know, some people get the -- get disinformation, they hear there's a problem, and they're going to pause before they come to the airport to see if it's resolved. But it may be that at least in Newark, according to FAA, flights are going to be resuming their departures. And so, we should expect to see a lot of these delays or, you know, a lot of these -- this board changing here, Poppy. HARLOW: That would be great. Athena Jones, thank you very much. And just the FAA just a few minutes ago put out a statement just to say, all flights currently in the sky are safe to land, pilots checked the NOTAM System before they fly.


HARLOW: Just so everyone knows, if you're in the air, your loved ones are in the air, they are fine.

LEMON: Yes, because people are concerned about that, obviously. Let's bring in now our Chief Business anchor here, and that is none other than Christine Romans. You had been standing by. Thank you so much. Sitting by and monitoring situations, giving us (INAUDIBLE)


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Been e-mailing with airlines all morning.

LEMON: but this all, we'll get to that -- we'll get to all of you -- get to all of it.


LEMON: But this all means money. This is business.

ROMANS: Well, it absolutely does. And it's an inconvenience for so many people, business travelers and leisure travelers. We're back to pre-pandemic levels. I mean, yesterday, 1.67 million people passed through TSA checkpoints in the U.S. That is more than on the same day in 2019. So, we are back to pre-pandemic levels, and people are flying, millions of people are flying. At peak operational times, you have 5400 planes in the air, and all those connections, all those business travels -- travelers in vacations that are happening here.

So, this is a big inconvenience. And it's not because of weather. And it's not because of flight crews that are not available or overstretched or staffing issues. This is 100 percent because of an FAA outage. And I was e-mailing with United Airlines, you know, we're complying with that directive, that directive from the FAA to ground all outgoing aircraft until 9:00 a.m. So, this is something where the airlines, the executives, their hands are tied here. They've got planes that are gassed up, fueled up, they've got crews that are ready, they've got routes that they're ready to service, but they have the federal government saying, you can't do it until 9:00 a.m.

LEMON: We've gone from -- we started, Poppy, with, what, 1230, 1230 flights, and then it was 3500. And then now, I just looked up, and it's 3700. So, even though we had this sort of arbitrary, you know, deadline saying 9:00 a.m., right, so we're waiting to see what the FAA indeed does at 9:00 a.m. if they move it back.


HARLOW: Yes. LEMONS: But still, it's already started to affect this, because it's a delay, it's a delay, people can't get to where they're going. As you said that planes are -- they're actually using fuel or energy as they're on the ground there. So --

ROMANS: And their connection. So, the thing to watch next, and it's interesting, because what our reporters are saying at the airports is they're not seeing a lot of cancellations yet. They're seeing these early morning flights have been rolled to a little bit later. So, they have been delayed. But at some point, you start missing connections, right? And then when you miss the connection, that's where the rebooking has to happen.

So, what you're hearing from travel experts is go to the app, make sure you're on the app, check the app, reschedule if you can, if you don't need to travel this morning, travel tomorrow, if it's not an urgent trip right now. And, you know, maybe don't leave for the airport right away, if you can just use the app and reschedule for another day to travel if it's not important travel. But you've got millions of people -- millions of people come in and go in here at America's airports. This is a vital artery.

And we'd heard from the United Airlines CEO just a couple of months ago, you know, September is usually are kind of a slow month for United. In September, he said was one of the best months they've had for September and years. And that's because, with hybrid work in the U.S., every weekend is a three-day weekend, people are traveling like crazy coming out of sort of the COVID lockdowns and the likes. So, these airlines have been struggling, really, to keep up with so much passenger demand. And today, this is not an airline issue. This is an FAA issue to be very, very clear here. They've got the planes, they've got the staff, they just don't have the clearance to fly it right now.

HARLOW: Christine Romans, thank you very, very much. We do want to get now -- I do want to tell you, the latest update from the FA -- FAA, they're making progress. And some more flights are departing now from Newark where Athena just was, and from Atlanta, Hartsfield. So, hopefully, that's a sign of what's to come in the next few hours. So, I want to bring in now the Lieutenant Governor of the State of Californa -- California, Eleni Koulakis (PH) is with us -- Kounalakis is with us.

Lieutenant Governor, obviously, we booked you to come on and join us, and we appreciate you're here for the weather crisis in your state. And we're going to get to that in a moment. But given this breaking news, could you just address any updates you might have from the state of California, the most populous state in our country, major airports up and down California. How they are dealing with this, and how this is impacting folks?

LT. GOV. ELENI KOUNALAKIS (D-CA): Well, Poppy, it's great to be with you. I've been sitting here watching the coverage. It's really extraordinary. I can't remember any circumstance where all of the flights across the country have been grounded for what appears to be a problem with the overall computer system. Here in California, this is going to impact us. We're in an emergency situation right now with the weather, and the storms, and the flooding, and the power outages, mudslides. And so, on top of that, to have our 24 airports which have scheduled flights have all of the flights grounded, is very significant for us here in our state.

HARLOW: Does the weather -- that was my first thought -- the last -- the last thing California needs. Does the weather impact that all the sources that you are getting in from the federal government outside of money to help deal with the crisis across the state right now?

KOUNALAKIS: So, with the state of emergency here, people have been watching these dramatic rescues, and we've had evacuations in Santa Barbara, and Southern California, and Montecito. So, we certainly need our airports to bring in supplies and assistance from the federal government. Again, hopefully, this is just a minor delay, and the flights are going to be backup soon. It's early here in California.


KOUNALAKIS: It's just after 5:00, 5:30 in the morning. So, hopefully, these delays will work themselves out, if the system is back up and running soon.

HARLOW: So, let me just turn to the weather, Lieutenant Governor, and the update you gave yesterday here on CNN was the death count from this is 17. I wonder what you can tell us about conditions this morning, and if that number has gone up?

KOUNALAKIS: So, the -- unfortunately, we've lost 17 people. That's more than we've lost in the last two years of wildfires. So, this is a very significant emergency. And, you know, we've never really seen anything like this. The state has been experiencing drought for the last four years, and now we have storm upon storm. We've had six storms in the last two weeks. This is the kind of weather that you would get in a year, and we've compressed it just into two weeks. And more significantly, we're looking at more rain over the next week.

And already, everything is so wet. We're seeing trees coming down with high winds of 50 to 60 miles an hour. We're looking at a fully saturated ground that can't take any more water. So, in the coming days with more rain coming, we're looking at more flooding, more downed trees, more high winds, more power outages. So, we're very, very concerned about what's to come.

HARLOW: They are --

LEMON: We need the rain but then it's so dry that it cannot absorb all that --