Emanuel frustrated with FAA response, lack of backup plan

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An exasperated Mayor Rahm Emanuel complained Wednesday about how long it’s taking the FAA to get its Aurora air-traffic control center back to full capacity after a fire set by a disgruntled contract employee.

Emanuel said he’s even more frustrated by the absence of a back-up system that would have prevented the attack from crippling so much of the nation’s air travel.

An arson fire on Friday in a Federal Aviation Administration radar facility in Aurora grounded all flights into and out of both major Chicago airports. That led to thousands of flights being canceled, as well as thousands of travelers stranded as the ripple effects hit the entire country. The system is still not back to normal and won’t be until Oct. 13, according to the FAA.

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“Over the weekend, I was on the phone with the FAA telling them they have to get this open, up and running. Once that task is done, they then have to analyze what happened. How can this happen? How can you have an airport that is so integral to the national and international system with no back-up capacity, that one individual can have this impact?” Emanuel said.

“First task: get it up and running. Task B: Take a deep breath and get immediately studying what is it you need to do so you can’t have one individual for whatever reason — upset at his employer — take down a system and we have no capacity as a city… and country to deal with this.”

Emanuel said the good news is that the Federal Aviation Administration is working “24/7 to get it up and running.” But, he said, “It’s not where it needs to be and they’ve got to work harder and better and smarter and get it there.”

Only after the Aurora center is back to 100 percent capacity can they “ask some hard questions at the end of this about how and why,” the mayor said.

Until the Aurora center gets “its sea legs back,” Emanuel said it only makes sense for President Barack Obama to arrive and depart from the Gary Regional Airport to avoid “putting added pressure” on the system.

Federal officials have estimated the Aurora center will reopen Oct. 13.

Effects of Friday’s shutdown continue to be felt at both O’Hare International Airport and Midway Airport.

The man accused of setting the blaze and then trying to kill himself in the basement of the Aurora facility is Brian Howard, 36, of Naperville. He is in custody, facing federal charges.

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