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Delta decided against using ‘fairly old’ backup system during FAA outage

<i>Patrick Semansky/AP</i><br/>
Patrick Semansky/AP

By Gregory Wallace, CNN

Delta Air Lines has a backup to the federal aviation safety system that failed this week, but the airline decided against using it, CEO Ed Bastian said Friday.

Bastian described the Delta’s secondary system as “fairly old backup technology” involving the notices known as NOTAMs distributed by the Federal Aviation Administration alerting pilots of obstacles, closures, and other information. Delta’s backup system collects data from the NOTAM database.

“We probably had a little better opportunity to fly during this stoppage as compared to anyone else,” Bastian told reporters on a conference call. “But out of deference to the FAA and making certain that we gave them the ability to make the decisions, we didn’t utilize that backup system.”

The FAA ultimately halted all domestic flights for more than an hour during the outage, during which time Delta could not have launched departures.

Bastian said he hopes the outage and massive disruption to air travel serves as “a call to action amongst our political leaders” to invest in FAA technology.

“I think this is a crystal clear example of the challenge the FAA has faced when you have aging systems that aren’t as resilient as they need to be,” he said. “You have tools and technologies that are somewhat outdated and staffing levels — not where they need to be.”

Bastian echoed a call from some aviation voices to change the budgeting and funding method for the FAA — specifically, he said, to “take them off the kind of year by year funding it seems like they go through that’s caught up in political negotiations.”

Like most other federal government arms, FAA priorities can change depending on what Congress funds, and all but the most essential services close during a government shutdown. Congress has the opportunity to consider such changes when it handles major aviation legislation this year.

Delta reported very strong fourth-quarter results Friday that beat forecasts, capping its first profitable year since before the pandemic. But a new labor deal with its pilots union will trim profitability going forward.

The Atlanta-based airline said it expects first-quarter earnings per share of 15 to 40 cents, well below the consensus estimate of 55 cents. The main headwind: a new tentative labor agreement with its pilots union, reached a month ago, that will increase pay by 34% over the life of the contract.

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