FAA Computer System Outage Demonstrates Need for Robust Aviation Investment


The computer system failure at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that grounded all domestic flights last Wednesday emphasized the need for greater investment in the nation’s aviation infrastructure.

The temporary outage of the Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system, which gives pilots safety information about flight conditions, resulted in the delay or cancelation of thousands of flights. While the FAA is still conducting a review to determine the precise cause of the failure, the importance of reliable and efficient aviation systems is clear.

Aviation infrastructure will be at the forefront of ASCE’s legislative priorities this year as the Society ramps up advocacy efforts for the FAA reauthorization bill. Part of ASCE’s advocacy work involves active participation in the Beyond the Runway Coalition, which includes a variety of industry representatives who support modernizing airport infrastructure financing to ensure airports have the resources they need to serve as strong economic engines. Our work with this coalition includes regular meetings, which will likely increase in frequency as Congress takes up FAA reauthorization legislation. ASCE strongly supports the timely reauthorization of FAA programs, which are vital for the safety and efficiency of the nation’s aviation system. ASCE urges Congress to reauthorize FAA programs through robust, multi-year legislation before they expire on September 30, 2023.

Long before the FAA’s disruptive computer failure, ASCE has been advocating for greater investment in aviation infrastructure, which received a D+ on ASCE’s 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. Under pre-COVID-19 projections, our aviation system was set to have a 10-year, $111 billion funding shortfall. That gap has likely grown significantly as passenger volumes dropped in March 2020 and continue to climb back to pre-pandemic levels.

Technological advancements are another factor that can play a critical role in improving airport service flexibility and efficiency. The FAA’s recent outage demonstrates the need for modernized and reliable technological systems. ASCE recognizes the need to balance infrastructure investment, enhanced safety measures, and technology improvements, both in investment and long-term planning.

FAA continues to roll out its massive Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) infrastructure program, which is designed to improve air travel safety, efficiency, and predictability. NextGen involves the transition from a radar-based system to a satellite-based system, replacing radio communications with data exchange and automation. One of ASCE’s Report Card recommendations is to support innovative technology such as NextGen, which offers the ability to reduce congestion and improve capacity.

The nation can’t afford to keep waiting to invest in aviation infrastructure. ASCE’s Failure to Act economic report found that airport congestion will cost U.S. industries and households approximately $28 billion in 2029 and $41 billion in 2039. Declining airport infrastructure affects the country’s ability to move people to their destinations and goods to market, negatively impacting the country’s ability to compete in a global economy and driving up costs to consumers.

As the 118th Congress gets underway and ASCE increases its advocacy efforts pertaining to aviation, please stay tuned for updates from ASCE’s Government Relations team.

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