17 air traffic control centres have been temporarily closed after workers tested positive for coronavirus, highlighting a vulnerability in air travel

Rafael Cordero/GettyAn air traffic control tower.
  • Numerous Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers have tested positive for COVID-19, leading to the temporary closure of facilities for cleaning.
  • Eleven sites across the country, including at major airports in New York, Chicago, and Las Vegas, have been temporarily closed for cleaning, affected flight operations.
  • Some facilities have been closed for multiple days leaving inbound and departing aircraft left to their own devices for taxi, take-off, and landing.
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The Federal Aviation Administration released a map indicating that numerous air traffic control facilities operated by the body across the US have had personnel test positive for COVID-19 or believed to have the illness, contributing to airport closures and flight delays while cleaning efforts commence.

Chicago’s Midway Airport was the first to effectively close after an air traffic controller assigned to the airport’s air traffic control tower tested positive for the virus.

Other major airports affected by the spread of the novel coronavirus include John F. Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia Airport in New York and Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport. Most incidents have been restricted to the east of the Mississippi River with New York being the most affected region.

Facilities with COVID-19-positive technicians have had to shut down for cleanings, closing down vital airspace and restricting access to major airports for extended periods. Aircraft continuing to operate to some airports without backup facilities during the closures have had to communicate directly with each other for separation.

Here’s the full list of the FAA air traffic control sites affected by COVID-19.


Chicago’s Midway International Airport

Thomas Barrat/shutterstockMidway International Airport in Chicago.

The air traffic control tower at Chicago’s Midway International Airport on March 17 became the first FAA facility to be closed due to a technician testing positive for COVID-19. The temporary closure effectively ceased air traffic at the airport while the facility could be cleaned.

Inbound flights were either held at their origins or diverted to airports as far as Milwaukee and St. Louis. The airport is a base for Southwest Airlines and is Chicago’s second-largest passenger airport following nearby O’Hare International Airport.


Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport

chara_stagram / Shutterstock.comThe air traffic control tower at Las Vegas’ McCarran Airport.

The control tower at Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport closed on March 18 after a controller tested positive for COVID-19. The facility remains closed as cleaning efforts continue and with no temporary facility in place, aircraft have been left to their own devices for taxi, take-off, and landing clearances as the airspace has reverted to uncontrolled status.

Departures and arrivals at the airport have been reduced to account for the reduced air traffic control services available.


Las Vegas TRACON

Marc Sanchez/Icon Sportswire/GettyAir Force One departing from Las Vegas.

The Las Vegas Terminal Radar Approach Control Facility temporarily closed on March 18 after an air traffic controller tested positive for COVID-19. Controllers at the facility handle air traffic into Las Vegas area airports including McCarran International, North Las Vegas Airport, and Henderson Executive Airport.


New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport

Mark Lennihan/APJFK Airport in New York.

The air traffic control tower at JFK Airport was temporarily closed as a technician had tested positive for COVID-19 on March 19. Air traffic controllers at New York’s primary gateway and one of 13 US government-approved entry airports for US citizens entering the country from Europe or who had been to mainland China were forced to relocate to a temporary facility.

Flight delays were limited to the early morning as controllers moved from the airport’s iconic control tower to an undisclosed backup facility somewhere on airport property.


Indianapolis ARTCC

EQRoy / Shutterstock.comIndianapolis International Airport.

The Indianapolis Air Route Traffic Control Centre on the grounds of Indianapolis International Airport was closed overnight March 20 following a positive test for COVID-19 was reported from an air traffic controller assigned to the facility. The FAA temporarily closed the facility for cleaning, affecting the entirety of Indianapolis Centre’s airspace which includes parts of Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Illinois, and Kentucky.


Wilmington Airport

New Castle AirportWilmington’s New Castle Airport in Delaware.

An air traffic controller working in the control tower at Wilmington New Castle Airport tested positive for COVID-19 on March 20. The airport serves Delaware’s largest city and is primarily used for private and general aviation having lost most of its commercial service.

Frontier Airlines is planning to return to the airport in May with seasonal service to Orlando.


LaGuardia Airport

Adrees Latif/ReutersNew York’s LaGuardia Airport.

The control tower at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, the busiest non-international airport in the tri-state area, was closed overnight on March 21 after an air traffic controller tested positive for COVID-19.

The impact on the airport’s operation was minimal as restrictions limit the number of flights that can utilise LaGuardia overnight, with mainly early morning flights affected.


New York ARTCC

Hyoung Chang/The Denver PostGettyAn air traffic controller.

The New York Air Route Traffic Control Centre on the grounds of Long Island’s MacArthur Airport was temporarily closed after a controller tested positive for COVID-19 on March 21.

The affected airspace restricted flights into New York area airports, with aircraft having to take longer routes in order to avoid closed sectors, as well as Oceanic airspace which stretches from New York past Bermuda and services flights heading to the Caribbean, Europe, South America, and Africa.


Farmingdale Republic Airport

Bruce Bennett/GettyFarmingdale Republic Airport on Long Island, New York.

An air traffic controller who tested positive for COVID-19 prompted the shutdown of Farmingdale Republic Airport’s control tower on March 22 for a two-week period.

The Long Island airport, primarily catering to general aviation and business jet traffic will remain open under uncontrolled conditions leaving aircraft to communicate directly with each other when on the ground and in the proximity of the airport in the air.


Leesburg Executive Airport

Ricky Carioti/The The Washington Post/GettyThe tarmac at Leesburg Executive Airport.

A technician at a Washington, DC area airport was believed to have COVID-19 on March 21, the closest reported case at an airport to the nation’s capital and one of the most restricted airspace areas in the world. The FAA later confirmed that there were no actual cases at the airport.

Located just upriver from the capital, Leesburg Executive acts as one of the few private and general aviation-only airports serving Washington.


General Wayne A. Downing Peoria International Airport

Jeff Haynes/ReutersPeoria International Airport in Illinois.

An air traffic controller assigned to the air traffic control tower at Peoria International Airport in Illinois tested positive for COVID-19 on March 21.

The Central Illinois airport sees service from four airlines including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and Allegiant Air, as well as private and general aviation and aircraft.


John Wayne Orange County Airport

ShutterstockAn Alaska Airlines aircraft at John Wayne Airport

The air traffic control tower at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California was closed on March 27 for cleaning following the reporting of a presumptive positive case for COVID-19, according to the FAA.

The airport, which sees a mix of airline and general aviation traffic, remains open with no major delays but the airport remains uncontrolled meaning aircraft have to directly communicate with each other when taxiing, arriving, or departing.


Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport

Nejron Photo/Shutterstock.comFort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport.

The air traffic control tower at Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport was affected by non-tower personnel testing positive for COVID-19 on March 27. The airport, which has since resumed normal operations, primarily serves airline traffic with a large contingent of private aviation traffic as the secondary gateway to South Florida.


Cleveland Hopkins International Airport

Karl R. Martin / Shutterstock.comCleveland Hopkins International Airport.

Facility personnel in the air traffic control tower at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, a former hub for United Airlines that has slowly been seeing reduced service, tested positive for COVID-19 on March 28. The airport has since resumed normal operations, the FAA said.


Houston ARTCC

ReutersAir traffic control radar facilities.

The Houston Air Route Traffic Control Centre was closed for cleaning on March 29 overnight after a technician tested positive for COVID-19. The purview for the facility includes handling arrivals into Houston’s two area airports which have a large contingent of United Airlines and Southwest Airlines traffic.


Atlanta ARTCC

Thomas Barrat/ShutterstockHartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

The Atlanta Air Route Traffic Control Centre was affected on March 29 when facility personnel tested positive for COVID-19. The facility controls airspace leading into Hartsfield-Jackson International, the country’s busiest airport and base for Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines, with the affected area being closed for cleaning.


New York TRACON

Burben/Shutterstock.comAn air traffic control facility.

The New York Terminal Radar Approach Control facility in Westbury, New York closed for cleaning on March 29 after a technician tested positive for COVID-19. The facility controls flights into New York area airports, some of the busiest airspace in the country with three major airports within a 30-mile radius.

Control of the airspace was transferred to the New York Air Route Traffic Control Centre in Ronkonkoma, New York, which recently had a controller test positive for COVID-19 as well.

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