FAA’s Contingency Plans and Security Protocols Were Insufficient at Chicago Air Traffic Control Facilities
On September 26, 2014, a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) contract employee deliberately started a fire that destroyed critical equipment at FAA’s Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center in Aurora, IL. As a result of the damage, Chicago Center was unable to control air traffic for more than 2 weeks, thousands of flights were delayed or cancelled, and aviation stakeholders reportedly lost over $350 million.
The contingency plans developed by FAA did not adequately address redundancy or resiliency and were insufficient to quickly restore operations after the Chicago fire. Moreover, the damage highlighted weaknesses in FAA’s current air traffic control infrastructure, which has limited flexibility to respond to system failures. In addition, the security protocols in effect at the time of the fire were insufficient to identify, counter, or mitigate the impact of an insider threat. While FAA has completed reviews of its contingency plans and security protocols following the incident, significant work remains to prevent or mitigate the impact of similar events in the future.
We made seven recommendations to help FAA improve redundancy and resiliency in the National Airspace System and implement improvements to its operational contingency plans and security protocols. FAA concurred with all seven, and we consider them resolved but open pending completion of planned actions.