White House stands behind Buttigieg after fallout from airline disruptions

President Joe Biden remains confident in US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg following recent air travel disruptions, including a 90-minute nationwide order to ground all US departing flights and thousands of complaints in the fallout of Southwest Airlines’ holiday travel chaos.

The president “respects the secretary and the work that he has been doing” to hold airlines accountable, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on 11 January.

“We understand what Americans have been going through these past couple of months,” she said. “That’s why the secretary has been very clear on making sure that they are held accountable [and] has put a processes in place to make sure that that occurs.”

A nationwide order grounding US departing flights from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Wednesday stemmed from a computer issue, according to authorities. Overall, more than 10,000 flights were impacted by the disruption.

Mr Buttigieg said there has not yet been “any indication” that nefarious activity or foul play was responsible for the outages, he told MSNBC on Wednesday.

“When there’s an issue on the government side of the house, when there’s an issue with FAA, we’re gonna own it, we’re gonna understand it and we’re gonna make very clear what’s needed in order to fix it and go after that plan,” he said.

The FAA’s Notice to Air Mission system, which critically keeps airline staff updated with real-time information about aviation hazards and airports across the country, had reportedly stopped processing data, forcing the agency to order airlines to pause all domestic departures “to allow the agency to validate the integrity of flight and safety information”.

“This is an incredibly complex system,” Mr Buttigieg said on MSNBC. “So glitches or complications happen all the time, but we can’t allow them to ever lead to this level of disruption and we won’t ever allow them to lead to a safety problem.”