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Air traffic control center shutdown for virus cleanup halts flights to Dallas

An air traffic control center serving Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport was closed for several hours on Wednesday for cleaning after an employee tested positive for coronavirus, failing flights at one of the busiest hubs. busiest in the world.

The Central Disturbance – which handles high-altitude air traffic for most of northern Texas, northwestern Louisiana, eastern New Mexico, and southern Oklahoma and Arkansas – caused ripples of delays and diverted flights across the country.

The Fort Worth air traffic control center suspended operations from 3:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. so that the facility could be disinfected, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, which said Wednesday evening that a single confluence of events and bad weather had led to the disruption.

The FAA said the employee last worked at the center on Christmas Day, which was in a seven-day window that required a more thorough level of cleaning in areas where the employee may have been.

“Because the cleanup required controllers to temporarily leave the control room, the FAA declared a ground stop, which held back traffic at the departure facilities,” the agency said on its Facebook page. He said other FAA facilities supported the closure and worked with traffic around the affected airspace.

Positive cases have been reported 22 times at the center, according to an FAA website. It was not immediately clear whether there had been any previous closures at the facility, which according to an FAA training manual is responsible for 140,000 square nautical miles of airspace.

Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and Dallas Love Field have both reported significant disruptions to their operations.

“The FAA closed the airspace inside and outside of DFW Airport until 5:00 p.m. Central time,” Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport said in a statement. “This is due to a mandatory sanitation cleanup of the FAA offsite facilities that control the airspace in DFW. This will result in delayed or possibly canceled flights. “

The airport, which served around 75 million passengers last year before the pandemic, has urged travelers to check with airlines for changes to their flights.

A spokesperson for Love Field, which is operated by the city of Dallas, said departures and arrivals were temporarily suspended at the airport.

“The estimate we received for the return to normal operations was 1-2 hours and that was about an hour ago,” spokesman Chris Perry said in an email around 4:45 p.m. , local hour.

About an hour later, an FAA spokeswoman said a ground stop was lifted. It also noted that the flights crossing the airspace served by the control center had continued to operate and had been able to communicate with other control centers. The spokeswoman said air traffic could still be affected by the weather in the area, where there were thunderstorms Wednesday evening.

“The FAA takes the safety of its employees and the flying public very seriously,” the agency said on its Facebook page. “Please note that throughout this event, the pilots were always in contact with the air traffic control employees, whether at the Fort Worth air traffic control center or other air traffic control facilities. air traffic. “

Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport is a hub for American Airlines, which has released a barrage of social media posts from travelers expressing their frustrations. It was not immediately clear how many of the airline’s flights had been disrupted. The airline did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Isaak Thurber said his flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport had been affected by the ground stop.

“Halfway through my flight, the pilot arrives on the intercom to tell us that DFW airspace has been closed due to ‘covid issues’ and we don’t know what to do”, Mr. Thurber said on twitter. “Now we have landed in Oklahoma City. I must love 2020. ”

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