Chicago area FAA station fixed as flights finally return to normal

Posted on Oct 18, 2014

The good news for travelers coming in and out of the biggest city in the Midwest is that O'Hare and Midway airports are back to full operational capacity. The bad news, in retrospect, is that it took close to three weeks for the repairs to an air-traffic control center in nearby Aurora to be completed. The facility was allegedly compromised by an ex-employee who set a fire and damaged the high-altitude monitoring equipment used there, according to the Wall Street Journal. While the Federal Aeronautics Administration was able to divert some operations to other control towers and reroute a portion of flights, delays abounded in the days after the incident and only truly returned to normal as the middle of October approached.

The Chicago Tribune reported that the facility's first day of back-to-normal operations coincided with low visibility, rain and high winds, as well as ground stop orders from a group of airports in Texas that delayed the takeoff of Chicago-bound flights. The challenging conditions of the day helped the air-traffic controllers get reacclimated to their surroundings. Delays for the two Chicago-area airports averaged about 40 minutes on Oct. 13, a far cry from the stream of cancellations that occurred when the system was first compromised.

The impact on travelers

Business is back to normal in the area, but it took weeks for that to happen. In the meantime, there were delays ranging from major to minor that impacted personal and corporate travel. The longer-term impact certainly wasn't as severe as the cancellations that happened during the first days after the facility was compromised, but they still affected travel and weren't widely reported. This resulted in a rude awakening for some as their flights approached.

The final repairs

Many of the staff members at the air-traffic control center, about 200 in all, were sent to other outposts nearby in the Midwest region as repairs continued. The Chicago En-Route Center, as it's officially known, controls flights in and out of the Chicago area's two major airports and is also involved in managing airspace in parts of seven other surrounding states, according to The Wall Street Journal. The staff members returned to the Aurora facility on Oct. 13 as the FAA completed repairs and upgrades to the system. Hundreds of circuits and miles of cable also had to be tested by repair workers, and test pilots were needed to help ensure the correct radio frequencies were being used to communicate.

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