The coronavirus has forced 11 US air traffic control centers to temporarily close following staff members testing positive, raising concerns. Regions significantly affected include New York and Chicago, both cities with major airports.
Which regions have been affected
The closures have primarily affected regions in the east of the country. This includes vital airspace over major airports and cities such as New York, Las Vegas, and Chicago. The temporary closures caused multiple flight delays and temporarily shut down major airports. The FAA has released a detailed map for the air traffic control hubs affected by the virus.
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One of the affected control centers was the New York Centre, known as ZNY, which is an Air Route Traffic Control Centre (ARTCC) and one of the world’s most critical hubs of operation. The closure of ZNY triggered a ground stop on all nearby airports, including Newark, JFK, Tetoboro, Philidelphia and more.
ZNY is only one of many affected centers. Others include Indianapolis ARTCC, Chicago Midway and Las Vegas McCarran International airports. This disruption has affected 11 air traffic centers in total, and could possibly affect more. However, most of the affected centers, including ZNY, are operational following cleaning.
Significant impact on operations
The shutdown of air traffic control over has meant ground stops in many airports and flights left to navigate the airspace themselves. Moreover, planes that are already in the air have been forced to manually communicate with nearby aircraft to ensure the minimum separation requirements are met. This has raised concerns about flight safety and the viability of flights during this trying time.
US carriers, and the government, are mulling sharply reducing air travel to only a handful of flights in part due to the air traffic control issues. With demand already sinking to record lows, this issue only seems to be pushing airlines’ decision to stop flying. While the closures have been temporary, and more centers are already back up and running, the event has exposed vulnerabilities in air travel.
The closure of air traffic centers all over the country shows how deep the impact of the coronavirus has been on the aviation sector, and the world at large. Without control towers, flying can rapidly become dangerous and will result in more delayed and canceled flights. Whether airlines voluntarily do so, or the government orders them to, we might see significant disruption in US domestic flying.
More and more airports, all over the world, are shrinking in light of reduced flights. However, concerns about air traffic control have not widely discussed. This week has shown countries that air travel depends on a number of essential factors, without which the whole system is thrown into disarray. We will be closely monitoring the situation in the US, and all over the world, to see what the outcome of these disruptions will be.