Aurora FAA facility back to full operation

AURORA, Ill. (WLS) -- The Federal Aviation Administration facility in west suburban Aurora is back up and running after the regional air traffic control center was forced offline more than two weeks ago.

Communications were severely damaged at the facility on Sept. 26, forcing the cancellation of thousands of flights in and out of O'Hare, Midway and other local airports. Air travel was disrupted nationwide.

"It's been a long last couple weeks, a lot of people put in a lot of hours," said Toby Hauck, National Association of Air Traffic Controllers.

Controllers at Chicago center are back in the saddle again and talking to airplanes for the first time here since September 26 when an allegedly suicidal technician cut cables and set fire to sensitive equipment.

An FAA-hired camera crew shot video on Monday morning in the center after what was a seamless return to operations here not long after midnight.

"A lot of welcome back, welcome back from other facilities calling in to our traffic management, to pilots on their frequencies," said Hauck.

When their scopes froze and telecom lines went down 18 days ago, the 200-plus controllers who work here- controlling high altitude traffic over a good portion of the Midwest- were dispatched to towers and other centers. So they've been living out of suitcases while technicians replaced 10 miles of cable, 20 equipment racks and hundreds of telecom circuits in what was a high-tech sprint.

"This is something no one anticipated and something we put back together as a team - quickly," said Hauck.

There are still some residual effects as the center returns to normal. Tulane junior Elizabeth Herseth was told her New Orleans flight was canceled Sunday because of air traffic control issues, and on Monday, it's because weather. But the ATC system that passengers don't see is now back to where it was.

Federal prosecutors say former contract worker Brian Howard, 36, of Naperville, started a fire in the telecommunications room of the basement before attempting to commit suicide. He remains in federal custody.

The FAA promised a full review of the incident and what might be done to provide a better back-up in the event of a catastrophic event. That report is due sometime before the end of the month.

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