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FAA outage update, Damar Hamlin returns home: 5 Things podcast

On today’s episode of the 5 Things podcast: More than 10,000 flights delayed, canceled following FAA outage

USA TODAY Consumer Travel Reporter Zach Wichter has the latest on an FAA outage that halted flights nationwide. Plus, a second set of classified documents has been found by aides to President Joe Biden, lawsuits pile up over firings and vaccine mandates, USA TODAY Education Reporter Kayla Jimenez talks about student lunch debt, and Damar Hamlin goes home from the hospital.

Podcasts:True crime, in-depth interviews and more USA TODAY podcasts right here.

Hit play on the player above to hear the podcast and follow along with the transcript below. This transcript was automatically generated, and then edited for clarity in its current form. There may be some differences between the audio and the text.

Taylor Wilson:

Good morning. I’m Taylor Wilson and this is 5 Things you need to know Thursday, the 12th of January, 2023. Today the latest on flight cancellations after a massive FAA outage, plus a second batch of classified documents has been found linked to President Joe Biden, and Damar Hamlin goes home.

A computer glitch at the Federal Aviation Administration delayed airline traffic across much of the country yesterday, and for the first time since September 11th, 2001, departures were halted nationwide. So what happened? Producer PJ Elliott spoke to USA TODAY Consumer Travel Reporter Zach Wichter to find out.

PJ Elliott:

Zach, first off, thanks for joining the podcast.

Zach Wichter:

Yeah, happy to be here.

PJ Elliott:

So do we know what the genesis of the system’s failure was with the FAA on Wednesday?

Zach Wichter:

No, we don’t. That said, a lot of the experts who I’ve been speaking to over the course of my reporting have pointed out that the FAA and many institutions in the air traffic system in the US use pretty old technology as part of their backend. And so a lot of people suspect that it’s just an IT failure of some kind, but we don’t know for sure. The FAA has said they’re investigating and we’re all just waiting to hear what they eventually say.

PJ Elliott:

Yeah, how old is the system?

Zach Wichter:

I’m not 100% sure. I think that it’s been through various iterations. And so no one who I spoke to is able to say exactly what kind of software the NOTAM system relies on. A lot of what the FAA uses and a lot of what the airlines use are systems built on top of other old systems. I mean, I always think when I go to the airport about how many other places in the world do you still see dot matrix printers? And there’s one of those at pretty much every podium in an airport. So that gives you an idea of what kind of technology a lot of these folks are still dealing with.

PJ Elliott:

Zach, I want to ask you about the history of these issues. Is this something the FAA has dealt with before Wednesday?

Zach Wichter:

So I think that what happened Wednesday is pretty unusual, certainly in how widespread it is. But that said, there are tech issues all the time. We see that at the airlines, we see that at the FAA. The big question then becomes just how quickly it can be resolved and how widespread it is. What we saw Wednesday was unusual because it affected the entire nation’s air system. But there are tech issues all the time, so that part of it isn’t so uncommon.

PJ Elliott:

Are the issues that happened with the FAA on Wednesday linked in any way to what happened with Southwest a couple weeks ago?

Zach Wichter:

It’s a good question, and I would say the top line answer is no. Separate systems, separate organizations. I do think that both what we saw on Wednesday and what we saw with Southwest could be a symptom of the same problem of these old systems kind of supporting 21st century travel. I think that we are seeing some cracks in that, for lack of a better word.

PJ Elliott:

Zach, thanks so much for your time and for the information. Have a good one.

Zach Wichter:

Yeah, no problem. Thanks again for having me on.

Taylor Wilson:

A second set of classified documents has been found by aides to President Joe Biden at a different location from his former office where records were first discovered in November. The White House confirmed that November discovery earlier this week.

President Joe Biden:

People know I take classified documents, classified information seriously.

Taylor Wilson:

Biden also said he was cooperating with the Justice Department review of the documents. It was not immediately clear how many documents were found at the second location or their classification level. Both discoveries of documents have drawn comparisons with former president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago document seizures, but the episodes are different. Trump repeatedly resisted efforts by the National Archives while Biden has maintained that the documents were immediately returned to the archives. Meanwhile, newly empowered House Republicans are planning a series of investigations into President Joe Biden including into his family’s business relations.


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