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Sabotaged air traffic center to be back online late Sunday or early Monday

The air traffic control facility in Aurora will go back online sometime late Sunday or early Monday — more than two weeks after a disgruntled contractor allegedly sabotaged the building and tried to take his own life.

Thousands of flights around the U.S. were disrupted in the wake of the fire, which was set Sept. 26 in the basement of the building. Brian Howard, a 36-year-old contract employee from Naperville, was charged with destruction of an aircraft facility, though additional charges against him still could be filed.

“They should be up to full speed sometime tomorrow,” Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Lynn Lunsford said Sunday night.

Sometime overnight, employees will return to the facility for the first time since the fire, Lunsford said.

“The FAA has successfully tested and restored all of the critical systems and equipment at the Chicago En Route Center in Aurora,” FAA officials wrote in a statement. “Overnight, the FAA will gradually transition flight plan information, communications and airspace back to Chicago Center.”

A full shift of air traffic controllers will return to the center for the transition. Other sites will transfer control of airspace sectors back to the suburban Chicago center after midnight.

In addition to damage caused by the fire, the FAA said important cables were cut during the sabotage.

An attorney for Howard has not disputed that his client set the fire and then attempted to slit his own throat. Instead, attorney Ron Safer has said that Howard was a “deeply troubled man” who made a “tragic mistake.”

Howard is being held without bond at the federal lockup in downtown Chicago. He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison if convicted.

Meanwhile, despite the setback to air traffic control because the Aurora facility was offline, the FAA said that O’Hare Airport has been the busiest airport in the U.S. for seven days running.