FAA Chief: “We Are in a Good Place”

Michael Huerta will tour the center and meet with Illinois' congressional delegation on Friday before addressing reporters

The head of the Federal Aviation Administration said Friday that everything is on target to restore air traffic back to normal conditions at Chicago's airports by Oct. 13.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta toured the Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center in Aurora that was sabotaged by fire a week ago, shutting down Chicago's two international airports.

Huerta also met with Illinois' congressional delegation, including Sen. Dick Durbin, Sen. Mark Kirk and Rep. Bill Foster.

"We are in a good place. We have all of the equipment in the building now, and all of it is powered up, and we're focusing on cabling and restoration of services, and are feeling very good about the target we've established for Oct. 13," Huerta said.

Some lawmakers have called for an investigation into how a former contract employee entered the building with a suitcase a week ago without causing suspicion.

Durbin said Thursday that he thought the facility would been in "much better shape" by now, but after meeting with Huerta, he said he was satisfied that there is "a total team commitment and team effort" to get the facility back up to speed.

Durbin said the onus is on lawmakers to make sure the funds are there to improve the system.

"What we need to have is not only the safety of airlines in the air when this occurs, but a quick restoration of services," Durbin said. "The second part has not been executed, or planned or funded for future challenges."

Kirk maintains that facilities like these should have full-time backup facilities similar to practices employed by the Department of Defense.

"I would say right not that Congress should be interested in funding warm backups for the FAA. When you look around this facility, it doesn't look like it's that expensive," Kirk said.

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Federal prosecutors allege 36-year-old Brian Howard of Naperville started a fire in the basement telecommunications room before attempting to commit suicide. Howard's alleged actions forced the cancellation of thousands of flights and cost an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars in lost productivity. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.

Officials said Friday that Howard used 4 gallons of gasoline to set fire to the facility, which now are bring rewired with miles of new cable.

The FAA said it hopes to return the facility to full service by Oct. 13.

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