September 29, 2014 / 12:14 AM / 4 years ago

FAA wants to restore Chicago air traffic site by mid-October

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Federal Aviation Administration said on Sunday that it has set a target of October 13 to restore to service a Chicago-area air traffic control site that was set ablaze by a field technician, as delays and cancellations continued at Chicago airports.

A view of an exterior of the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Aviation Administration in Aurora, Illinois, September 26, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Young

Air traffic controllers managed about 60 percent of typical traffic on Sunday at O’Hare International Airport and over 75 percent at Chicago Midway International Airport, the FAA said. More than 600 flights were canceled at O’Hare and Midway on Sunday, and delays were about 30 minutes, the city’s aviation department said.

The fire forced the evacuation of the FAA control center in Aurora, Illinois, and severely affected air traffic, with an estimated 2,100 flights canceled at major airports across the country on Friday.

Another 1,100 flights were canceled Saturday.

Brian Howard, 36, of the Chicago suburb of Naperville, was charged with a federal felony count of destruction of aircraft or aircraft facilities, prosecutors said.

Harris Corp, the FAA telecommunications contractor which employed Howard, said on Sunday that it was working to install new equipment and conduct repairs at the Aurora facility.

“Our team is on site working 24/7 with the (FAA) to install new equipment and restore service to full capacity as quickly as possible,” Harris spokesman Jim Burke said in a statement.

Burke said Howard worked for eight years as a Harris field technician, and was terminated after the incident.

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 its website.

The FAA said that air traffic controllers who normally work at the Aurora facility are now working at other surrounding FAA facilities to help maximize traffic flow in and out of Chicago-area airports while repairs are being made.

The FAA said on Saturday that 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.

The first shipment of replacement equipment is scheduled to arrive late on Sunday night, and teams will be working around the clock to install it, the FAA said.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal, Kevin Murphy, Mary Wisniewski and Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Nick Zieminski

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