On January 11th, 2023, a national ground stop was declared when the Federal Aviation Administration’s NOTAM system failed. The NOTAM program alerts pilots of potential hazards and is one of the most important air traffic systems, so its failure stopped every flight nationwide. This was the first time a nationwide FAA ground stop had been administered since September 11th, 2001.
Ground stops can be scary, confusing, and irritating for both passengers and pilots as they interrupt travel plans. When you own a private aircraft, you should expect potential setbacks like this. There will always be circumstances beyond your control that affect your flight plan.
Weather, technical difficulties, and other problems could occur right where you are and demand a quick response from you as the pilot. However, the situations and issues at airports in other cities could alter your plans as well!
Ground stops are a common interruption you’ll encounter while flying. We’ll explain below what exactly a ground stop is, why they happen, and how you can respond:
What is a Ground Stop at The Airport?
Airport Ground Stop Definition
A ground stop is when an airport stops receiving inbound aircraft. These flights are then either rerouted, delayed, or canceled. This can affect en route planes and those yet to depart.
For an aircraft yet to depart, this is how a ground stop might proceed: If your jet is currently at Chicago O’Hare International Airport departing for Orlando and Orlando issues a ground stop, you would not be able to leave from Chicago until the ground stop was lifted.
However, if you were on an already departed flight, a few things could happen. You may be diverted to another airport or your flight may be canceled, and you’ll need to make new arrangements. It’s possible that your arrival at the airport will just be delayed as well, in which case your aircraft would need to maintain a holding configuration until the ground stop ended.
A ground stop can be declared for all incoming traffic or just certain aircraft. Each issued ground stop will specify the reason for the delay, who it applies to, and an estimated correction time. (Or, a notice of a diversion path.)
All this is encompassed within the FAA’s Ground Delay Program (GDP), which is a traffic management initiative to ensure the airways stay organized and safe despite unforeseen circumstances.
How Long Does A Ground Stop Last?
Ground stops can last anywhere from 15 minutes to several days. On average, they’re between 1-3 hours, but there are many reasons a ground stop could occur. Some of those problems can be fixed quickly by airport staff. Other issues are beyond the airport’s control and the ground stop will continue until the conditions have changed. Below are some reasons for a ground stop:
What Causes A Ground Stop At An Airport?
One of the most common reasons for a ground stop is weather. Fog, low cloud ceilings, freezing cold, thunderstorms, blizzards, hurricanes, and even volcanic activity could lead to a ground stop. When weather is unfavorable, the airport cannot lift the ground stop until the conditions have improved.
It is not uncommon for runways to change or to suddenly become unavailable. Since everything in air traffic is connected, there are a lot of reasons why runways get busy with other flights outside the schedule.
A newly formed no-fly zone, a regular flight delay, or another ground stop may cause an airport to redirect inbound traffic. The airport is no longer available to receive your jet, so the airport issues a ground stop of their own.
The airport can only take in so many aircraft at a time. If there are circumstances that cause an influx of flights to arrive too close together, a ground stop is declared. This allows for the airport to catch back up, clear the runways, and take in more flights.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Airport Noise Program regulates the sound levels of air traffic on behalf of the surrounding community. Compliance with this program sometimes means performing a ground stop to minimize the noise pollution affecting the city.
Arguably, one of the most famous ground stops ever was during the events of 9/11. Every United States airport had an FAA issued ground stop for both en route and departing aircraft. This ground stop was not lifted until September 13th, 2001.
Criminal activity, terrorism, and other security issues result in ground stops. These take longer to be lifted, because oftentimes the staff members have evacuated and law enforcement must get involved before the premises can be considered safe again.
Air traffic control and airports alike are managed using technology and machinery. If a major system or piece of equipment fails and the arrival and departure of aircraft and/or passengers cannot be safely controlled, a ground stop will be issued. (This is what happened when the NOTAM system failed on January 11th, 2023.)
Both government shutdowns and issues in the job market lead to occasional understaffing. When the airport doesn’t have enough individuals to operate, they issue a ground stop. Once staff are redistributed or caught up on current flights, the ground stop is lifted.
Understanding ground stops is essential to flying private or commercial.
When you encounter a ground stop, take a moment to consider your next action based on the direction of air traffic control and respond calmly. Furthermore, plan for delays from regular air traffic management. Though lengthy and widespread ground stops are unusual, they’re not unheard of.
It’s best to be prepared, so learn all you can about ground stop delays, and ensure your jet is equipped to handle unexpected overnights and redirects. When accommodations are unavailable because of your unplanned arrival or deviation, you may have to sleep on board. Make it as comfortable as possible with a state-of-the-art JetBed.
It’s a device that turns your aircraft seats into a high-quality bed that rivals that of a hotel. You can purchase the JetBed on our website, HERE, as well as read our other helpful aviation blog posts for private jet owners like you.