If there’s something just about everyone in House of Representatives can agree on, it’s preventing a computer glitch from shutting down the air transportation system. The House voted 424-4 to pass the NOTAM Improvement Act, which would create a task force run by the FAA to stabilize the ancient computers that serve up the NOTAMs and shield them against cyberattack. Last week the agency determined that a contractor working on the computers mistakenly deleted a few files, ultimately causing a nationwide ground stop on Jan. 11.
The ground stop lasted less than two hours, but its effects rippled through the system for days. The task force would include pilots, airline representatives, airport executives, union leaders, air traffic controllers and computer experts. This is actually the House’s third try to get this kind of legislation passed but the Senate didn’t take up previous bills. “I encourage my colleagues in both the House and the Senate to pass my legislation before another failure of the NOTAM system occurs. Our pilots, crew members and passengers are counting on us,” Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Minn., said. Stauber cosponsored the bill with Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Calif.
What do pilots, airline representatives, airport executives, union leaders, and air traffic controllers know about cyber-security and system redundancy? Can we just let the professionals do their jobs? (This “big tent” approach to technical subjects is why the system is so screwed up as it is.)
I presume it’s not just about modernizing the computer systems, but also the format and content of the NOTAMs themselves. Though executives of any kind should have nothing to do with this, because they have nothing to do with NOTAMs.
A well designed computer system requires the system analyst/designer, programmers, and project coordinators have all of the users’ input and needs well known and laid on the table to optimize the implementation. Cybersecurity and system redundancy/recovery are but small parts of what needs to be done. At least some pilots know a considerable amount on systems, data integrity because that’s how they finance their flying.
Many systems have been designed, implemented and coded with excellence that never did the job they were supposed to do because the programmers and analysts had only a vague idea of what the end users real requirements were. The users of these systems do need to be involved in the design specification, reliability measures and standards, user interface and reporting. If they are not, we will get exactly what we have now: 4,353 Notams for everything within a 200 nm radius of the 50 nm VFR flight between two airports, of which 4,349 Notams are irrelevant and hide the 4 that will get you. And it will be perfectly designed and coded….to the wrong or useless spec.
I worked for.the FAA on these computers when they were installed 25 years ago. NOTAMs were not mission critical back then. I’m sure they upgraded computers over time. But I doubt they considered a backup system or upgraded it to mission criticize. ATC decided it was…
Not sure who is at the helm, but when I suggested an ADSB type system 30 years ago, it was turned down by the military and the FAA because the GPS signals were too easy to jam. I hope they make sure there is backups for the ground station triangulation system before they do away with the tried and true VOR and ILS systems.
The NDBs are rare to find in a plane or on the ground, but they did provide a long distance NAV aide when nothing else is working. The Bermuda Triangle ate planes because they got lost. That ended with 526 on Stella Marris. I enjoyed working on that thing. The flights through the Bahamas was enjoyable.
Agree completely. I still have an ADF and used it up until the NDB approach was shut down 4 years ago at an airport I use. I might have been the last one to fly that approach before it was decommissioned. That and other decommissionings forced me to put in an IFR GPS system which is nice, but easily subject to jamming as the Lightsquared “low power” terrestrial tests demonstrated during the Obama administration which caused jamming over a 1500 nm radius of the test transmitter. We saw this again with the 5G jamming of radioaltimeters and the ongoing Legato (which arose from the bankruptcy ashes of Lightsquared) attempt to again use GPS guard band spectrum already proven to seriously interfere with and degrade GPS accuracy. Loran C worked reasonably well, provided a cheap and effective backup and was hard to interfere with with very few problems. It covered vast areas with few transmitters.
In addition you didn’t have to pay $400+ a year for database updates on that GPS!
Issue is back before the late 90’s building a fake ground based navigation transmitter was difficult and expensive, faking one today can be done for around $500 (cheap programable transmitter from china and a RaspberyPi can duplicate almost any system in play today) and broadcast at a higher power. A modern system needs to have bidirectional validation that the host and the client are who they claim to be. Even ADSB fails to validate nodes in the system.
With the overwhelming support for this bill in the house, I have to wonder about those 4 NAY votes. What was their reasoning?
Probably train proponents. “Forget flying, take the train!”
They should also invest is a COOP site.
Proof that even a do-nothing congress can occasionally do something. But not until the bureaucracy proves it cannot or will not do what’s necessary, leading to a PR problem and opportunity to appease the plebeians by appearing capable of legislating. And no, I do not buy the tale that funding was the limiting factor leading to an antiquated and inadequate NOTAM system.
The real news is not that a computer failed once in 25 years. That should be expected. But that some unelected bureaucrat thought lack of NOTAMs is reason to shut down the ENTIRE airspace system.
This is exactly what happened. The way this article is written, it makes it look like the computer working NOTAM’s failure grounded everything. It didn’t, it took some @#$&% FAA bureaucrat who decided to ground all IFR traffic, unnecessary!
I haven’t seen such a grand assemblage of our best and brightest addressing a crisis of national import since the Taylor Swift/Ticketmaster investigations.
Was the same contractor working for Transport Canada and deleted the same files there too?
I heard the same news about TC but, not a peep since initial story. Maybe it was just fake news. Hard to know these days…
Interested to know on what grounds 4 people voted against it?
Perhaps 4 people thought 6 months of waiting to form a task force, followed by a year for them to make a report, was not an appropriate response?
Maybe there’s 4 that are just crazy, or maybe there’s 4 that actually care. Who knows?
Oh, damn. The starter crank on my Model-T just broke! Let’s create a task force to require Ford to develop a more robust handle. That will fix the problem, I’m sure.
“Hey ChatGPT, what do I need to know before I launch for Oshkosh?”
So, instead of holding the contractor liable and paying damages, WE will need to pay more to remind a contractor not to do that? This is madness.
So you want to put a contractor’s company out of business, for a small error that shouldn’t have brought down the system, when they are likely the only company that can maintain it?
I’ve seen exactly that happen, with delicious unintended consequences. I’ve even fixed a system (bailing wired it, actually) to save a stupid company who did that. They hired back some of the people that had made the mistake.
The NOTAM system should be cloud based with postings on a half-dozen Social Media (S.M.) sites and never have outages. The S.M. sites also offer features that emphasize the importance of the NOTAMs. 194 foot crane 2.3 miles northeast of airport will have a lower ranking then a runway closer. The professional IT folks that work for these S.M. companies keep security high and the equipment relevant at the lowest cost. S.M. applications have so many features that will alert your cellphone the minute an aircraft is disabled on a runway or a pop-up TFR goes into affect.
And of course…, you can post a picture of your half eaten lunch also. 🥙🥪 😊
How often are there unplanned outages of the NOTAM system? Actually, less than there have been unplanned outages of the various SM sites.
As an IT professional, I can say with certainty that most of the IT systems we take for granted are held together with a lot more twine and duct tape that you think. The more capable a system is, the more complex it must be, and the more complex it is, the more likely it will be to have a failure. So you add in redundancy to protect against failure, but the redundancy itself adds complexity and thus, paradoxically, a greater chance that something will fail and need the redundancy. It’s the same way how the joke of twin engines go: the second engine is there to get you to the scene of the crash.
As a software engineer and pilot the NOTAM system yes is weak, but it isn’t where I would focus. I spend a lot of time testing and securing major systems so I look at any system in the mindset of how can it be broken. Just think how simple an ILS is…. Other than Inertial navigation system every one in use today relies on technology that is easily duplicated and fooled.
The FAA really needs to form a security and robustness group, headed by software, electrical, and radio engineers and let them audit the systems in place, there should be an annual budget to keep it upgraded, beyond that keep the bureaucrats out of it as it will only slow it down.
If Federal Government would stop wasting time and money on renaming acronyms (Remember when it was Notice to Airmen??) pronouns, Diversity Inclusion Equity and other woke nonsense, this problem could be solved in short order.