FAA Will Review ATC Security Plans


Following a fire that knocked out ATC equipment at a facility in Aurora, Illinois, on Friday, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said on Monday the agency will conduct a 30-day review of its contingency plans and security protocols to be sure they address system efficiency as well as safety. “I do understand the traveling public’s frustrations,” Huerta said. More than 2,500 flights were cancelled over the weekend at Chicago’s busy O’Hare and Midway hubs, according to USA Today. “The air transportation system is vital to our economy and people rely on it to function 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Huerta said. “I want to make sure that we have the most robust contingency plans possible.” Also on Monday, The Associated Press reported more details about the incident that led to the fire.

The suspect, Brian Howard, 36, of Naperville, Illinois, entered the facility at about 5 a.m. on Friday, using a swipe card and carrying a suitcase, according to the AP. About 30 minutes later, he posted a suicide note on Facebook, according to a federal criminal complaint. Minutes later, someone at the ATC facility called 911 to report the fire, and a relative of the suspect, who saw the Facebook post, also alerted authorities. Paramedics found the suspect with cuts to his arms and throat, and they also found gas cans and a lighter, according to the AP. Howard, a contract worker, had worked at the facility for eight years, and recently had been told he was going to be transferred to Hawaii. He appeared in court on Monday where the felony charge of destruction of aircraft facilities was explained to him, but he did not enter a plea. He will be detained at a Chicago correctional center until his next court date.

In his speech at a meeting of the Air Traffic Control Association in Maryland, Huerta said the agency’s contingency plans now in place focus on the safe handling of aircraft. “When a situation like a major outage occurs, our goal is to manage the aircraft in the air to ensure they reach their destinations safely,” he said. “In the case of Friday’s fire, the FAA worked quickly to handle aircraft traversing Chicago center’s airspace and implemented its contingency plans to hand off airspace responsibilities to adjacent facilities.What suffers under these circumstances is the efficiency of the system we have come to depend on.” Huerta said in consideration of the traveling public’s frustrations and dependence on air transportation, he wants to review those plans to be sure “we are prepared to both assure the safety of aircraft but also the efficiency of the system.”