American Airlines CEO: Updating FAA technology is a big job

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American Airlines CEO Robert Isom said the modernization of FAA technology is "something that we have to plan for and build over a number of years."
American Airlines CEO Robert Isom said the modernization of FAA technology is "something that we have to plan for and build over a number of years." Photo Credit: American Airlines

Properly updating the FAA's technology will be a long, expensive process, according to American Airlines CEO Robert Isom.

"It's going to be billions of dollars and it's not something that's done overnight," Isom said during a Thursday morning "Squawk Box" interview on CNBC. "It's something that we have to plan for and build over a number of years."

The FAA on Wednesday evening said that it had traced the cause of that morning's Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system outage to a damaged database file. The agency said it would "take all needed steps to prevent this kind of disruption from happening again."

The outage caused the FAA to issue a ground stop on domestic flights in the early Wednesday hours, which led to more than 10,000 flight delays for the day and more than 2,800 flight cancellations. 

Airlines appeared to have largely recovered their operations on Thursday. As of 1 p.m. Eastern time, just 119 cancellations had been recorded on flights to, from or within the U.S. according to a FlightAware spokeswoman.  There were 1,750 delays. 

Isom told CNBC that for safety reasons, he was pleased with the FAA for issuing the ground stop, which was the first in the U.S. since 9/11. He also noted that airline CEOs were on the phone with acting FAA administrator Billy Nolen when the decision was made. 

Meanwhile, the outage has fueled criticism from members of Congress. 

New House transportation committee chair Sam Graves (R-Mo.) said he'll be preparing an oversight letter along with colleagues "to make sure that we know what went wrong, who's responsible, and how this is going to be prevented in the future."

Senate transportation committee chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) offered a similar sentiment.

"We will be looking into what caused this outage and how redundancy plays a role in preventing future outages," she said.

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