Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Pete Buttigieg said today that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is in the middle of upgrading their outdated IT systems following a news-making tech breakdown last month.

“I know how complicated aviation-related IT systems can be. We’re in the middle of a bunch of upgrades at the FAA, including the system that we had a problem with earlier,” Buttigieg said during a conversation with Punchbowl News on Feb. 2.

A major system outage at the FAA caused the agency to ground all flights nationwide last month for two hours. The delay of thousands of U.S. flights was attributed to a contractor who had “unintentionally deleted files.”

The FAA said it investigated the circumstances surrounding the outage but found no evidence of malicious intent or a cyberattack.

“We are smack in the middle of historic work,” Buttigieg said.

As his two-year anniversary of serving as the 19th secretary of Transportation comes up on Feb. 3, Buttigieg said he is working to hold commercial airlines, like Southwest, accountable for outdated technology.

“We have raised the bar, especially last year, toughening up the ability to hold airlines accountable – something that paid off in the case of our response to the Southwest debacle,” he said.

In late December, Southwest canceled more than half of its flights and left thousands stranded over a three-day period due to winter storms and a breakdown of technology.

“It appears that a big part of it is this system, that many who work there will tell you, has needed to be upgraded since the ‘90s,” Buttigieg said of the commercial airline, “[and] they so far haven’t.”

He continued, “It really stands out that in the case of Southwest, every other airline managed to recover. They actually got worse when the weather got better because it spiraled out of control.”

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.