WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Harris Corp on Sunday said it was working to install new equipment and conduct repairs at a Chicago-area air traffic control site that was set ablaze by a field technician on Friday in an incident that has continued to snarl U.S. air traffic over the weekend.
“Our team is on site working 24/7 with the (Federal Aviation Administration) to install new equipment and restore service to full capacity as quickly as possible,” Harris spokesman Jim Burke said in a statement emailed to Reuters.
Brian Howard, 36, who lives in the Chicago suburb of Naperville, was charged on Friday in U.S. District Court in Chicago with one felony count of destruction of aircraft or aircraft facilities, prosecutors said.
The incident forced the evacuation of the Federal Aviation Administration control center in Aurora, Illinois, and severely affected air traffic on Friday, when an estimated 2,100 flights were canceled at major airports across the country. More than 1,100 flights were canceled Saturday.
Burke said Howard had worked for eight years as a Harris field technician, and had been terminated after the incident. He referred questions about the background checks done on Howard to the FAA and the FBI, which is investigating the incident.
Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport said airlines were reporting 500-plus cancellations on Sunday, and average delays of 30 minutes, according to a Twitter posting by the airport.
O’Hare, one of the world’s busiest airports, is the largest hub of United Airlines and a major hub for American Airlines. The airport averaged about 2,700 flights a day in August with a daily average of about 220,000 passengers in the month, according to data posted on its website.
Midway International Airport was reporting 50 or more cancellations, with delays averaging about 40 minutes, according to a Twitter posting by the airport.
The FAA issued a statement late on Saturday saying it had decided to completely replace the central communications network in a different part of the same building to restore the system as quickly as possible.
It said technicians would set up the equipment, connect it to several undamaged systems and carry out tests.
The fire damaged some communications systems, which meant that air traffic controllers initially had to file flight plans manually, but the FAA is now automating more of that work.
The agency said it was working closely with the airlines to manage the traffic flow.
It said it had been able to steadily increase air traffic and reduce delays by improving direct communication between the other FAA facilities that are now managing air traffic in the Chicago area, and finding new ways to automatically file and transfer flight plan information.
Reporting by Andrea Shalal, Kevin Murphy and Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Nick Zieminski