A small fire at an FAA radar center in Illinois is grounding flights across the entire country, affecting flights into and out of South Bend International Airport. A number of inbound and outbound flights have already been canceled for this afternoon and evening.
All flights into and out of Chicago have been cancelled or grounded except for a 10:49 pm arrival from United. Other regional flights are also experiencing cancellations, including flights to Atlanta, Detroit and Minneapolis. Travelers are advised to check the status of their flight before leaving to the airport.
The issue has been more acute in Chicago where flights into and out of Midway and O’Hare airports have been temporarily halted.
“Flights that were already in the air destined to the Chicago area were allowed to continue at a reduced rate or proceed to an alternate destination,” the FAA said this morning.
Media reports suggest that over 1,300 flights had been canceled as of noon Friday. Another 700 were delayed. Southwest Airlines — which has a hub at Midway — says that it is cancelling all of its flights at that south side Chicago airport, as well as in Milwaukee, Wisconsin until 7 pm.
The fire was apparently a case of arson. The Chicago Tribune reports that the man, a contractor, “was found with self-inflicted wounds by emergency crews who responded around 5:40 a.m.” in the basement of the FAA facility in Aurora, Illinois.
“Whatever his motivations were is yet to be determined,” says Tom Ahern, spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms’ Chicago office. “We just don’t know at this point why he may have done this.”
No one was killed in the fire, although the FAA center was closed and employees were evacuated.
“There was no explosion and, like any similar scene, first responders are being cautious as they clear the building and continue to make it safe,” Aurora police said. “This apparently is an isolated incident and there are no indications of terrorism at this time.”
The FAA stopped flights across the Midwest until late morning. The delays have caused a backlog of flights, which will take a significant number of hours — possibly days — to fully return to normal operations.