After a fire closed a major air traffic control center outside of Chicago last Friday, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association offered a status update and assurances that flight operations were safe and returning to normal early this week.
The delays and cancellations are expected to continue well into October, but the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) on Monday said that its members are keeping the skies above Chicago safe and efficient following a fire last Friday.
Air traffic controllers are trained to expect the unexpected and make a new plan work safely.
Thousands of flights were grounded at O’Hare International Airport—the second busiest hub in the world—and Midway International Airport for several hours last week after a contract worker at the Aurora, Illinois, Federal Aviation Administration radar center allegedly set fire to the building and attempted suicide, according to the FBI.
As of Monday, the FAA reported that arrivals and departures were at about 60 percent of a typical day for O’Hare and 75 percent for Midway. On Sunday, 550 flights were cancelled at O’Hare (there were 700 cancellations nationwide) as a result of the fire.
In a statement, NATCA President Paul Rinaldi said the situation was one of the most challenging that FAA employees had faced since 9/11.
“The damage to this critical facility is unlike anything we have seen before,” Rinaldi said. “Since the first moment when radar scopes went dark at Chicago Center Friday morning, controllers have ensured the highest level of safety at all times. We know this has been a tremendous disruption to the travel plans of many people. We are working diligently to reestablish as close to normal operations as possible to minimize the inconvenience to travelers while keeping safety above everything else.”
Four radar centers that border the area typically covered by the Aurora center will provide assistance while the damaged facility gets back up to speed. Critical communications systems were destroyed in the fire, according to NATCA.
“We have seen a plan of action established by the adjacent centers and other key facilities that is evolving and improving by the hour and providing safe service that is increasing in efficiency,” NATCA Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert said in the statement. “Air traffic controllers are trained to expect the unexpected and make a new plan work safely. The level of resourcefulness and ingenuity that has been demonstrated over the past three days is truly astounding. Controllers and other FAA safety professionals will continue to implement outside-the-box thinking to get the system functioning well while Chicago Center repairs are made.”