FAA grapples with COVID cleanups in air traffic centers

Business News

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Flights were delayed when an air traffic control center near Jacksonville, Florida, had to close down for several hours for extensive cleaning after an employee tested positive for COVID-19.

Jacksonville International Airport tweeted Wednesday afternoon that the center would be closed “into the evening which may cause extensive delays and/or cancellations.” It advised passengers to check with their airlines regarding delayed flights.

It was the second time this year that the Federal Aviation Administration’s flight-control center in Hilliard has been closed for cleaning due to the coronavirus. Overall, the Hilliard facility has had 12 personnel testing positive since June, and the nearby Jacksonville International Airport tower also has had a dozen infections, according to data provided by the FAA.

The FAA data show hundreds of coronavirus infections among air traffic control workers since the pandemic began, a challenge the agency says it has met by scheduling most cleanings for overnight hours and with other ways of reducing the impact on air travel.

The FAA said in a statement that the agency has a “robust contingency plan” for every air traffic control center, including backup plans in case of a temporary closing due to COVID or any other reason.

“The agency continually monitors controller staffing and traffic demand, and remains in close contact with airports, airlines and other stakeholders so we can prioritize our resources to meet the greatest demand,” the statement said.

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