The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) late Thursday attributed the major system outage that caused the agency to pause flights nationwide last week to a contractor who had “unintentionally deleted files.”

The agency said it is still continuing to investigate the circumstances surrounding the outage, but so far has found no evidence of malicious intent or a cyberattack.

According to the FAA’s statement, the contractor “unintentionally deleted files while working to correct synchronization between the live primary database and a backup database,” causing the outage to its Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system. The NOTAM system can alert pilots before they fly to closed runways, equipment outages, and other potential hazards along a flight route.

Due to the NOTAM outage, the agency temporarily paused commercial air travel “to validate the integrity of flight and safety information,” the FAA said. The outage caused the delay of thousands of flights in the U.S. on the morning of Jan. 11.

“The FAA made the necessary repairs to the system and has taken steps to make the NOTAM system more resilient,” the agency said in its latest statement this week. “The agency is acting quickly to adopt any other lessons learned in our efforts to ensure the continuing robustness of the nation’s air traffic control system.”

Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y., is now looking for some answers to questions about the bigger air travel cybersecurity issues. The congressman has asked the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) to conduct a joint review of the cyber vulnerabilities of all systems supporting national air travel, according to a Jan. 12 letter he sent to CISA Director Jen Easterly.

“Even though the FAA’s NOTAM system likely broke down for reasons unrelated to a cyberattack, the sheer number of flight cancellations and delays gives us a glimpse of how a cyberattack could derail air travel in America,” Rep. Torres wrote on Twitter.

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.