On Tuesday, all Chicago flights into and out of O'Hare International Airport and Midway Airport were halted after smoke was reported inside an off-site Federal Aviation Administration control tower in suburban Elgin, Illinois.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman, Tony Molinaro confirmed that all FAA personnel were evacuated from Chicago Terminal Radio Approach Control, a radar facility in Elgin, around 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday because of smoke in the building. Inbound flights already in the air over the area were handled by a backup facility in the city of Aurora, Molinaro said.
Local news stations showed aerial footage of a large backup of aircraft lined up along taxiways. The FAA said the cause of the smoke has not yet been determined.
Elgin Fire Capt. Anthony Bailek said the Elgin Fire Department received a report of smoke in the building around noon. Most of the smoke was on the second floor, "but they can't find where it's coming from," Bailek told the Chicago Sun-Times.
According to the FAA website, Terminal Radar Approach Control Facilities (TRACON) services from remote locations is a common and time-tested practice. For instance, all aircraft flying in the New York City-metropolitan area receive services from one TRACON located on Long Island.
Terminal Radar Approach Control Facilities or TRACONs save taxpayer dollars by eliminating the need for the FAA to have multiple buildings, automation systems, voice switches and all of the overhead associated with the TRACON infrastructure.
Chicago's O'Hare International Airport is is a major hub and the second-busiest airport in the United States. Approximately half of all passengers arriving at O'Hare International Airport are connecting to other flights. Any disruption to its operations has an enormous ripple effect on the nation's aviation system.