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Vague FAA Statement Reveals Nothing

FAA Comments on Pacific Air Traffic Stop Raise Eyebrows

Some in the collective aerospace community have expressed a measure of annoyance at the recent non-statement issued by the FAA in regards to a ground stop issued on January 10. The halt saw departures from west coast airports paused for around 15 minutes with little forewarning or post-hoc explanation. 

The FAA's twitter account posted a picture containing a short, terse statement, stating, "As a matter of precaution, the FAA temporarily paused departures at some airports along the West Coast on Monday night. Full operations resumed in less than 15 minutes. The FAA regularly takes precautionary measures. We are reviewing the process around this ground stop as we do after all such events."

Aviation nerds the world over have spent the week in a 'whodunit', piecing together clips of ATC recordings, aircraft movements, and directions to see exactly what brought on the surprise intervention. Speculation initially pointed to a potential North Korean missile test, but the ground was not accompanied by warnings from NORAD as they normally would. Some aircraft in the air were ordered to land as soon as possible, according to pilots online, and some ATC personnel posted images reputed to be the slips ordering a halt on all traffic. Additional sleuthing, however, has increasingly aligned the timing with the North Korean ballistic launch. More information has been released by countries closer to the region, and the timeline matches up closely enough that it seems that the grounding order was caused by something along the lines of an overabundance of caution or human error. 

The vague, indeterminate nature of the FAA statement is theorized to be the result of a certain hesitation on the part of the agency to acknowledge the perhaps premature activation of early warning procedures, that the admission that a missile launch hundreds of miles away could be seen as an inappropriate cause for concern without the capability to broach anything approaching American airspace. North Korean ballistic missile development has advanced, and its ruling regime has given recent hints at developing far longer ranged or hypersonic systems that could much more realistically target American interests. It would not be out of line for warnings or traffic stoppages to result if the possibility of much more dangerous, realistic threats are believed to be on the horizon. Hopefully, the mechanisms leading to the event are further refined and polished, so future inconvenience may be avoided. 



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