The Daily Parker

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Arson shuts down nation's aviation system

Yesterday morning, someone set fire to the Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) in Aurora, Ill., effectively shutting down half the country's aviation:

Brian Howard, 36, remains hospitalized with self-inflicted wounds following the incident that grounded nearly 2,000 flights in Chicago and wreaked havoc on air travel nationwide. He is expected to survive.

The effects of the fire will continue to be felt at both Chicago airports through the weekend as stranded travelers scramble to find seats on other flights. United Airlines, the biggest carrier at O'Hare International Airport, said it may cancel up to one-third of its 480 scheduled O'Hare departures on Saturday.

The fire caused all radio frequencies to go dead and prompted the center to shift to its back-up system until it was shut down completely by the evacuation, employees said. The stoppage brought both O'Hare and Midway airports to a complete standstill. The FAA halted all flights in the Chicago area as well as flights heading to the region.

Such a scenario - called "ATC Zero,'' short for a complete halt to air traffic - hasn't occurred since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, officials said.

The Aurora ARTCC (called "Chicago Center" over the air) monitors all flights within a couple hundred kilometers of Chicago, including all approaches to and departures from O'Hare and Midway. That one employee can do this suggests there might be some avenues to improving security at the ARTCC...

I'll be interested to learn how much this cost the airlines. Thousands of flights cancelled in one day, at a major hub airport for the two largest airlines in the world? Not going to be pretty.

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