U.S. flight woes linger after Chicago air traffic center fire

Reuters

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An American Airlines flight board displays cancelled flights at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, September 26, 2014. Photo credit: Reuters An American Airlines flight board displays cancelled flights at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, September 26, 2014. Photo credit: Reuters
U.S. airports reported hundreds of residual flight cancellations on Saturday, a day after a fire at a Chicago-area air traffic control center that authorities said was set by an employee who then tried to take his own life.
The incident forced the evacuation of the Federal Aviation Administration control center in Aurora, Illinois, and severely snarled air traffic on Friday, when an estimated 2,100 flights were canceled at major airports across the country.
The impact stretched into Saturday with a further 1,100 flight cancellations nationwide, more than double the number of cancellations for the entire day before the fire, according to tracking website FlightAware.
A storm carrying heavy winds also disrupted travel at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, leading to about 20 cancellations and temporarily halting takeoffs and landings, the airport said.
Nearly 60 percent of the cancellations took place at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, one of the world's busiest and located near the damaged flight center.
O'Hare is the largest hub of United Airlines and a major hub for American Airlines. The airport averaged about 2,700 flights a day in August with a daily average of about 220,000 passengers in the month, according data posted on its website.
Brian Howard, 36, who lives in the Chicago suburb of Naperville, was charged on Friday in U.S. District Court in Chicago with one felony count of destruction of aircraft or aircraft facilities, prosecutors said.
Howard, who has worked at the control center for eight years, is suspected of starting the fire in its basement at about 5:40 a.m. local time (1040 GMT), according to an affidavit attached to the complaint.
Howard had recently been told he was being transferred to Hawaii, it said.
Shortly before the fire, a private message was posted to Howard's Facebook account that said he was "about to take out" the control center and take his own life, the affidavit said. A relative forwarded the message to police.
Arriving at the scene of the fire, which was quickly extinguished but not before causing damage, paramedics followed a trail of blood and encountered Howard shirtless with cut wounds on his arms and saw him slicing at his own throat, the affidavit said.
Howard remains hospitalized and no court date has been set, prosecutors said. He could face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.
The FAA was assessing the damage caused by the blaze, which may be significant, but hoped to restore air traffic to relatively normal levels over the next few days, officials said.
Air traffic was being handled by other control centers in the region.

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