Flights are being halted at 2 major airports in Texas to disinfect an air traffic control center where 2 workers tested positive for COVID-19 this week

Dallas Ft. Worth Airport
An American Airlines plane at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

  • The Federal Aviation Administration issued a ground stop for flights departing and arriving into Dallas while a facility is being cleaned after two workers tested positive for COVID-19 this week.
  • Flights are also temporarily barred from landing or taking off from any airport under the airspace, which extends across Northern Texas from parts of New Mexico to parts of Louisiana and Arkansas. 
  • Exactly 22 people working at the facility reported having COVID-19, the highest of any FAA facility in Dallas. 
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Flights in and out of Dallas are being grounded as the air traffic control center responsible for the region’s high-altitude airspace is undergoing a two and a half hour cleaning after one of the facility’s personnel tested positive for COVID-19.

This is the second case this week where facility personnel tested positive for the virus, with the most recent incident occurring as recently as Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration’s website shows. Six FAA facilities in the Dallas area have reported positive COVID-19 cases, four of which reported cases multiple times, but this facility has experienced a whopping 22 cases, including Wednesday’s. 

The FAA issued a ground stop for all aircraft landing within the facility’s airspace during the cleaning, which extends well beyond the Dallas metropolitan area. Its airspace includes the skies above most of Northern Texas, Southern Oklahoma, Western Arkansas, Western Louisiana, and Eastern New Mexico. 

Dallas-bound flights that haven’t taken off yet are being held at their departure airports while flights en route to the area will likely need to enter holding patterns or divert to other airports outside of the airspace until the ground stop is lifted.

The Dallas Air Route Traffic Control Center typically coordinates flights in upper altitudes that depart from and arrive at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and Dallas’ Love Field. The airports are home to American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, respectively, which operate hundreds of daily flights from the city. 

Aircraft slated to fly through Dallas’s wide-ranging airspace may also need to be rerouted around it, which can increase flight times for other aircraft. The facility is still open, the FAA confirmed to Business Insider, but likely operating with a reduced workforce due to the cleaning. 

The first high-profile incident of COVID-19 affecting sensitive air traffic control facilities occurred in March when the air traffic control tower at Chicago’s Midway International Airport was forced to close, grounding flights in and out of the airport. In Las Vegas, the extended closure of McCarran International Airport’s air traffic control facilities meant aircraft had to communicate directly with each other to coordinate their movements. 

Air traffic controllers at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport retreated to a secondary location while their control tower was closed for cleaning in March. Not all airports, however, have backup facilities for their air traffic control operations. 

Air Route Control Centers are also typically closed overnight for cleaning to reduce the impact on flights during the day but the frequency of cases this week likely prompted the afternoon cleaning. The ground stop also comes during what is proving to be the busiest travel time of the pandemic with over one million daily passengers passing through US airports on the days surrounding the Christmas and New Year’s holidays

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The FAA ignored safety issues ahead of deadly crashes, cozied up with companies it was supposed to regulate, and retaliated against whistleblowers, according to an explosive congressional investigation

FILE PHOTO: A number of grounded Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft are shown parked at Victorville Airport in Victorville, California, U.S., March 26, 2019.  REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo
A number of grounded Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft are shown parked at Victorville Airport in Victorville, California

  • An explosive congressional report released on Friday found “significant lapses in aviation safety oversight and failed leadership” at the Federal Aviation Administration.
  • The report determined that the agency repeatedly ignored safety warnings ahead of fatal crashes, was cozy with the companies it was supposed to regulate, and retaliated against whistleblowers who raised concerns.
  • It also said the FAA and Boeing improperly influenced tests meant to determine if 737 MAX aircraft were safe to fly again, and that the FAA let Southwest Airlines put “millions of passengers at potential risk” by not knowing if planes were safe.
  • The report summarizes the findings of a nearly two-year-long Senate investigation prompted by two fatal crashes involving Boeing 737 MAX planes, which the FAA cleared to fly again last month.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

In April 2019, following two deadly crashes involving Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation opened an investigation into the incidents.

On Friday, 20 months later, the committee released its findings in a scathing report that blamed the Federal Aviation Administration for repeatedly falling short on its regulatory duties, with regards to Boeing as well as the industry more broadly.

“Our findings are troubling,” Sen. Roger Wicker, a Republican from Mississippi who chairs the committee, said in a press release.

“The report details a number of significant examples of lapses in aviation safety oversight and failed leadership in the FAA. It is clear that the agency requires consistent oversight to ensure their work to protect the flying public is executed fully and correctly,” Sen. Wicker said.

As part of its investigation, the committee heard from more than 50 whistleblowers, interviewed FAA staff, and reviewed over 15,000 pages of documents.

A spokesperson for the FAA told Business Insider the agency had “just received” the report and is “carefully reviewing the document, which the Committee acknowledges contains a number of unsubstantiated allegations.”

“The FAA is committed to continuous advancement of aviation safety and improving our organization, processes, and culture,” the spokesperson said.

The report comes just weeks after the FAA cleared the 737 MAX to fly again.

“Boeing is committed to improving aviation safety, strengthening our safety culture, and rebuilding trust with our customers, regulators, and the flying public. We take seriously the Committee’s findings and will continue to review the report in full,” Boeing said in a statement, adding “we will never forget the lives lost on board.”

A spokesperson for Southwest told Business Insider the company was aware of the report and has “utilized many of these past references to improve our practices and oversight, further enhancing an already robust Safety Management System.”

“Southwest Airlines maintains a culture of compliance, recognizing the Safety of our operation as the most important thing we do,” the spokesperson said, adding: “We do not tolerate any relaxing of standards that govern ultimate Safety across our operation.”

A few of the major points from the report include:

  • During tests meant to determine if the 737 MAX was safe to fly again, Boeing “inappropriately influenced” flight simulation tests. 
  • FAA senior leadership “may have obstructed” a review of the crashes conducted by the Department of Transportation’s inspector general. (The FAA said it “conducted a thorough and deliberate review” along with international regulators and was “confident” that the safety issues that played a role in the crashes have been addressed.).
  • The FAA “repeatedly permitted Southwest Airlines to continue operating dozens of aircraft in an unknown airworthiness condition for several years. These flights put millions of passengers at potential risk.”
  • FAA leadership repeatedly overruled and undermined the agency’s frontline safety inspectors and ignored their warnings – and, in at least one case, the warning preceded a fatal crash.
  • Multiple whistleblowers alleged a culture of “coziness” between the FAA and Boeing as well as other companies within its regulatory scope.
  • The FAA provided “contradictory and misleading” information to congressional investigators, refused to answer more than half of its questions and refused to let them interview many of its staff.
  • The FAA “continues to retaliate against whistleblowers.”

Read the full report here »

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