Chicago-area air traffic center fully operational

Firefighters respond to the FAA Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center in Aurora on Friday. (Credit: CBS)

AURORA, Ill. (AP) — A suburban Chicago air traffic center reopened early Monday, more than two weeks after damage from a deliberately set fire forced the cancellation of thousands of flights and disrupted travel nationwide, federal officials said.

A full shift of air traffic controllers at the Chicago En Route Center in Aurora resumed control of the center’s airspace from adjoining centers between midnight and 1 a.m. on Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a news release.

About 200 Aurora facility workers traveled to other FAA air traffic centers since the Sept. 26 incident. The FAA said those workers will be returning from those locations Monday.

Authorities have said a contract worker cut cables and set fire to a basement telecommunications room before trying to commit suicide by slitting his throat. The disruption forced an hours-long shutdown of O’Hare and Midway international airports that day.

FAA technical team will remain in Aurora until Tuesday to monitor system performance and help ensure a smooth transition, the FAA said. The agency said the event has prompted it to conduct a 30-day review of contingency plans and security protocols for its major facilities.

The agency’s response to the incident drew criticism from some, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who said the FAA needed to “work harder and better and smarter” to restore normal airport operations.

Brian Howard, 36, of Naperville is charged in federal court with felony destruction of aircraft or aircraft facilities. His defense attorney, Ron Safer, has said Howard made a “tragic mistake.”

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