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The US government’s fix for airlines’ tech problems is to do nothing

Members of the mission group Adventures In Missions wait to find out if their flight to Guatemala is on time or cancelled after Delta Air Lines' computer systems crashed on Monday, grounding flights around the globe, at Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. August 8, 2016.
Reuters/Tami Chappell
Scenes like this have become common at US airports.
  • David Yanofsky
By David Yanofsky

Editor of code, visuals, and data

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

From the US to UK to India and elsewhere, technical failures have been plaguing the commercial aviation industry in recent years. We’ve counted 24 major disruptions in the US since 2015. Yet, the US Department of Transportation has no plans to try to regulate the industry into technical resiliency.

A spokesperson for the DOT told Quartz that the agency is of the opinion that the high cost of glitches is the only needed deterrent to prevent future outages. “Airlines are already highly motivated to avoid situations like Delta is experiencing” the agency said in a emailed statement to Quartz, referring to Delta’s problems stemming from a technical outage on Aug. 8. According to the DOT, the combined incentives to avoid losing revenue, keep performance metrics high and have happy customers are “likely a more effective incentive than detailed regulations concerning the carriers’ IT systems.”

Nationwide, technical failures have struck all of the largest US airlines at least once in the last two years.

Other than systems that are directly related to aviation safety the department “does not inspect or regulate airlines’ IT systems,” according to the DOT’s statement.

Nonetheless, the issues have attracted the attention of members of the US Congress. Two Senators, Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), have sent letters to US airlines requesting information about what the carriers are doing to prevent future outages and how it deals with them when they do. The letter says that the glitches “can harm our economy, which relies on a safe and efficient aviation industry to stay competitive.”

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