Foxx Hails Reopening of Chicago ATC Facility

More than 2,000 flights at O'Hare and Midway airports were cancelled because of the damage caused by a fire, allegedly set by a contract employee, on Sept. 26.

The FAA's Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center in Aurora, Ill., has been reopened just two weeks after being damaged by a fire on Sept. 26. A contract employee was charged with setting the fire, which caused no injuries but disrupted more than 2,000 flights at Chicago’s busy airports.

DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx posted his congratulations on Oct. 14 to employees for the fast recovery, writing that "The men and women of Technical Operations worked tirelessly, re-establishing power sources; troubleshooting to restore service; addressing immediate communication needs between the facilities that assumed control of the Chicago airspace; and helping cover for colleagues who worked to bring the ARTCC back to business. Pur aviation system continued to function safely and efficiently, while minimizing impact to the traveling public over the last two weeks. I'd like to thank members of the traveling public --especially those who were disrupted when the Chicago center was initially disabled-- for your patience...."

Foxx wrote that about 180 controllers from the Chicago center worked at other centers as work went on to reopen their facility, and FAA's Command Center in Warrenton, Va., worked closely with airlines serving the Chicago area to minimize disruptions and maximize the number of flights arriving and departing.

"The reconstruction efforts at the Chicago ARTCC were pretty amazing," he wrote. "Anyone who has had the misfortune of dealing with the aftermath of a destructive fire knows it's a messy and difficult task to recover and rebuild from it. Smoke, soot, and water damage affect much of what the fire itself doesn't destroy. Over the last two weeks, the affected area was cleaned for restoration and cleared of damaged equipment. The facility was reconfigured quickly to accommodate more than 20 racks of new telecommunication equipment. Over 10 miles of cable was run in the facility. The cable lengths were manually cut and spliced onto one of 30 different connectors in order to restore 835 telecommunications circuits. One hundred different radio frequencies were tested to ensure controllers could communicate with pilots. All the while, we kept arrivals and departures happening at Midway and O'Hare airports during the last two weeks. In fact, for 11 out of the past 18 days, O'Hare was again the busiest airport in the US, managing more flights than at any other airport in the world.

"Performance at that level is excellent on any given day, but given these circumstances, it's utterly outstanding. And it doesn't happen because there are one or two individuals who stand out on the team; it happens because we have an outstanding team of individuals, working together to make it happen. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta told me that as he and his leadership team visited the ARTCC and the facilities managing air traffic while the ARTCC was restored, they couldn't tell who was management, who was labor, who was a controller, or who was a technician. All anyone could see was a single team. One team, with one goal in mind: restore the facility to full operations as quickly as possible. The professionalism, responsiveness, teamwork, creativity, and collaboration of the FAA team are noteworthy and demonstrate the team members' passion to provide a safe and efficient aerospace system while remaining accountable to the American public and aviation stakeholders."

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