O’Hare, Midway Continue To Increase Flights After Radar Center Fire

CHICAGO (CBS) — As the FAA continues to make repairs to a severely damaged radar center in Aurora, flight performance at Chicago’s two airports has gradually improved as air traffic controllers have shifted to facilities in four other states to pick up the slack.

Tuesday morning, the FAA said O’Hare International Airport handled more than 80 percent of its average traffic on Monday, and Midway International Airport handled more than 90 percent of its normal Monday load.

That’s a significant improvement from the weekend, when O’Hare was operating at about 60 percent of its normal capacity, while Midway was flying about 75 percent of its normal flights.

Still, that left nearly 260 flights canceled at O’Hare on Tuesday, as of 3:35 p.m., according to the city’s Aviation Department. Midway had only a few cancellations.

Thousands of flights at Midway and O’Hare have been canceled since Friday, when FAA contractor Brian Howard allegedly set several fires inside the telecommunications room of the Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center in Aurora, before allegedly attempting suicide. The fire itself and the water used to put it out severely damaged sensitive equipment at the facility, crippling the radar center.

Howard, a Navy veteran, has since been fired, and charged with destruction of aircraft facilities. He was ordered held without bail on Monday.

Howard had recently been told that he would be transferred to Hawaii and reportedly was disgruntled. He had worked for the Harris Corp. for the past eight years, modernizing communications equipment at FAA facilities but was fired after the arson incident.

Defense attorney Ronald Safer indicated his client’s actions were a cry for help. He said Howard deeply regrets the air traffic disruption caused in the course of a suicide attempt.

The FAA has said its goal is to fix most of the equipment by late this week or early next week but it wont be back to full service until Oct. 13.

The first shipment of new equipment arrived in Aurora on Sunday, and the FAA said more equipment was expected Monday and Tuesday.

The FAA also has launched a complete review of the incident, and is increasing security measures.

“The FAA already has made security staffing adjustments at select facilities and has added additional guards at Chicago Center while cleanup crews and other visitors are working in the facility,” the FAA said in an update on its website. “The agency also has raised security awareness at all of its air traffic facilities around the country, refreshing security best practices and protocols. The FAA is committed to maintaining a safe and secure environment for its workforce and to ensuring the security of its critical facilities and equipment.”

Meantime, the FAA has delegated air traffic control operations normally handled in Aurora to facilities in four other states, in an effort to get O’Hare and Midway back to normal operations as soon as possible.

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