A fire, thought to have been started by an arsonist, early in the morning on September 26 immediately closed the Chicago En Route ATC Center (ZAU) in Aurora, Ill., shutting down air traffic at Chicago O’Hare and Midway International airports, as well as at a half dozen business aviation airports in the area. A Chicago flight services briefer told AIN on September 27 that ZAU will remain closed until September 30.
The Professional Airways Safety Specialists union described the damage to the center’s equipment as “substantial.”
The shutdown, which delayed air traffic across the entire upper Midwest area, had caused the cancellation of more than 2,000 airline flights at Chicago’s main commercial airports alone by late Friday. The adjoining ATC centers for Minneapolis, Kansas City, Indianapolis and Cleveland, as well as other radar-equipped terminals, were able to keep a small number of IFR airplanes moving in the region, although all overflight traffic was diverted either north or south of the Midwestern hub.
The suspected arsonist was reportedly an FAA contract employee who was arrested at the site shortly after the blaze was brought under control.