ATLANTA The Federal Aviation Administration said a communication failure Tuesday at a Georgia facility that processes flight plans for the eastern half of the United States was causing flight delays around the country.
An FAA Web site that tracks airport status showed delays at some three dozen major airports across the country. The site advised passengers to "check your departure airport to see if your flight may be affected."
FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen in Atlanta said there are no safety issues and officials are still able to speak to pilots on planes on the ground and in the air.
She said she did not know how many flights were being affected, and she added that officials might not have figures until Wednesday.
Bergen said the problem that occurred Tuesday afternoon involves an FAA facility in Hampton, Ga., south of Atlanta, that processes flight plans. She said there was a failure in a communication link that transmits the data to a similar facility in Salt Lake City.
As a result, the Salt Lake City facility was having to process those flight plans, causing delays in planes taking off. She said there were no problems with planes landing.
"There will be flight delays," Bergen said. "It could be any location, because one facility is now processing flight data for everybody."
Salt Lake City International Airport experienced only minimal delays Tuesday afternoon, said Dave Korzep, airport superintendent. Airport officials were expecting some late arrivals Tuesday evening from airports most affected by the communication failure.
"We're probably going to see some ripples from this," Korzep said, "but they won't be huge."
Bergen said there was an unrelated hardware problem at the Hampton facility on Aug. 21 that resulted in issues processing flight plans, but she was unsure if there were any flight delays.
A spokesman for Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world's busiest airport, did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the impact there from Tuesday's episode. Bergen said officials at the Atlanta airport were entering flight data manually to try to speed things up.
Discount carrier AirTran Airways, which has its hub at the Atlanta airport, said in a statement that because of the suburban FAA center difficulties it was taking up to an hour for the FAA to get clearances to the towers for departures. Delta Air Lines Inc., which has its main hub in Atlanta, said flights were processing for takeoff, but slowly.
The communication failure was causing delays for departures and arrivals at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, according to airport spokeswoman Cheryl Stewart. However, she did not have a number on delays.
The FAA has asked that no new flight plans be filed, Stewart said. If an airline has not filed a flight plan yet, that flight cannot leave. However, some flights had already filed their plans and those planes were being allowed to depart, Stewart said.
Carolyn Fennell, spokeswoman for the Orlando International Airport, said 13 Southwest Airlines flights had been affected by the glitch.
Brenda Geoghagan, a spokeswoman for Tampa International Airport in Florida, said "it may just be too soon" to determine the impact there. Christine Osborn, another spokeswoman at the Tampa airport, said there have been no delays due to the flight plan communication failure. But she said she anticipates problems in the coming hours.
"There's definitely going to be some impact," she said.
At Miami International Airport, there were no delays or cancellations due to the communication failure, said spokesman Marc Henderson.
"There are cancellations due to weather from the hurricane, but not due to this," he said.
The National Airspace Data Interchange Network is a data communications system for air traffic controllers. It's used to distribute flight plans and allows controllers to know when planes are leaving, where they're going and other details.
Allen Kenitzer, a western regional spokesman for the FAA, said the Utah system could handle the extra load while workers tried to get the Atlanta system back online, but it was expected to slow down air traffic."We're not going to let an unsafe condition exist. It's just going to be slower," Kenitzer said.
Contributing: Jared Page, Deseret News