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Time to Give ATC an “Atta Boy”
Most aviation stories only seem to find their way on to the desks of those of us who devour industry news or consider themselves true aviation geeks, except when it’s about an accident, especially one involving an airliner. Those stories can remain in the public eye for weeks or even months.
In late September though, a local Chicagoland story made it to the front pages … and it had absolutely nothing to do with an accident. September 26th was the day a deranged Harris Corp employee – a guy I won’t dignify by mentioning his name – contracted to work for the FAA at Chicago’s massive enroute ATC center in Aurora Illinois reported for work in the early morning hours and went right to his mischief. Shortly after reporting for work about 5 am, he ignited a fire that demanded the building be evacuated. Unfortunately, in addition to lots of center radio frequencies going dead, the fire also destroyed much of the enroute ATC system radar and radio infrastructure. That meant hundreds of airplanes and thousands of people sat on the ground around the nation eventually while the FAA tried to figure out what to do next.
Surprising to many people, me included actually, the FAA brought center traffic back at ZAU, the center’s identifier … slowly at first by sending hundreds of controllers to nearby terminal radar facilities like O’Hare, Rockford, South Bend, Milwaukee and dozens of others. They also sent another few hundred people to adjoining centers like Minneapolis, Kansas City, Cleveland and Indianapolis where traffic was kept moving … slowly.
No doubt the cost to the airlines for the delays and cancellations was massive as was the inconveniencing of hundreds of thousands of airline and business aviation passengers. But it all worked … and it all worked safely.
I think it’s time to recognize the men and women of the FAA, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists and everyone else who worked around the clock to restore ATC service in a mere two weeks.
To all of the FAA controllers and PASS technicians and yes, probably even a few managers who probably haven’t heard it yet, thank you. Thank you for getting air traffic moving again in Chicago and around the country. And thank you for working without a safety net or even a plan for the most part.
If you find yourself flying through Chicago Center’s airspace one of these days, or those adjoining centers that lent a hand to make this work too, be sure and say “Nice job fixing that ZAU mess guys. We appreciate what you did.”
I’m Rob Mark. See you next time.