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Letter to Chairmen Oberstar and Costello Regarding the 2009 FAA Telecommunications Infrastructure Outage

Project ID: 

On June 17, 2010, we issued our review of an FAA Telecommunications Infrastructure (FTI) outage that occurred on November 19, 2009, delaying thousands of travelers and grounding hundreds of flights nationwide. This review was requested by the Chairmen of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and Subcommittee on Aviation. The Chairmen requested that we (1) identify the cause of the FTI outage, (2) review FAA’s corrective action plan to prevent future critical outages, (3) examine FAA’s ability to oversee FTI and the contractor, and (4) identify oversight vulnerabilities or best practices of other critical systems in the National Airspace System owned or operated by the private sector.

We found that network configuration and procedural errors by the contractor caused the FTI outage, which blocked approximately 75 percent of the FTI network traffic and delayed service restoration for 5 hours. While FAA and the contractor have taken corrective actions to prevent a similar critical outage, they acknowledge that the risk of future outages remains as new services are added to FTI’s fiber optic network. In addition, we found that FAA’s oversight of the contractor could have been more effective and proactive. Moreover, FAA’s internal reports show that FAA and the contractor still need to fully identify FTI vulnerabilities to ensure network reliability. FAA is increasingly shifting more acquisitions and services to the private sector to reduce costs, and we identified a number of best practices FAA should consider for FTI and other privately owned and operated systems.  

FAA has accepted the recent findings and recommendations of an independent review panel convened by the FAA Administrator to investigate the November 2009 outage, and another review of FTI reliability is pending. Therefore, we are making no recommendations at this time.