Friday, January 23, 2015

Foster says Aurora Federal Aviation Administration facility stronger than ever

The Federal Aviation Administration air traffic control facility in Aurora has come back strong since a deliberately set fire shut it down last September.

That was the word Friday from U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville, after he toured the facility, known as Aurora Center, at Indian Trail and Highland Avenue.

“It’s now squeaky clean,” Foster, who last toured the facility just days after the Sept. 26 fire, said. “You wouldn’t have guessed it was the same place. There was not even a smell.”

Foster said the facility actually came out better for the fire, which was allegedly set deliberately by a troubled contract worker. At the time, it was a near disaster, forcing airlines to cancel hundreds of flights out of Chicago.

Air traffic controllers working in Aurora were forced to go to other control centers where they could work on Chicago’s air space situation.

Foster said Friday that in talking to the controllers, whom he called “great guys,” it appears the emergency gave them a chance to understand the system better, and even to meet controllers in other cities they often talk to on the radio, but never meet.

“It ended up being really good for morale, having to deal with the emergency,” Foster said.

Also, the FAA took the opportunity to not only replace the damaged system, but to upgrade it. While the Aurora building was being repaired, the FAA was testing the upgraded equipment at another facility. So, when the Aurora building was ready for the new equipment, it could be moved in, already tested.

“The fact they pulled it off was amazing,” he said.

By 2017, the FAA plans to have the NextGen system installed, an advanced digital communication grid that will make the entire FAA system less dependent on smaller, regional or local grids. Some planes already have the advanced system installed. Foster said it will be expensive to install the new equipment.

“That’s one of the things I’m trying to get reversed,” Foster said. “The controllers were trying to urge me to get Congress to spend the money for the new system.”

Foster said the government should be praised for doing a good job of recovery at Aurora Center.

“This was a real story of success,” he said.

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