AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - 76

"The teamwork was so phenomenal that we
were able to overcome the obstacles. I've never
been so proud to be a controller."
ATC ZERO

"We've got primary and backup
systems for just about everything," said Toby Hauck, a Chicago
Center air traffic controller and
union leader at the 700-employee
facility. "But in this case both
the primary and backup systems
were destroyed. It all went down
at once."
A 911 call at 5:40 a.m., followed
by fire alarms, forced all employees,
including about 140 controllers, to
evacuate the FAA facility in suburban Chicago. They had just
directed a wave of eastbound redeye flights high overhead and
were prepared to handle a surge
of arrivals to O'Hare and Midway,
Chicago's busiest airports.
Within minutes, however, FAA
managers had declared an "ATC
Zero" situation, meaning that the
entire facility was dropping offline.
About 40 airplanes on IFR flight
LOST COMS

plans were over the area when the
outage began, and pilots scrambled
to reach other air traffic controllers
on the emergency frequency, 121.5
MHz. From a timing standpoint,
the traffic level was extremely low,
but the Friday wave of preweekend travel already was rolling and
would crest that afternoon.
Around Chicago, IFR departures came to a complete halt.
Even at outlying airports far from
the city, pilots couldn't get clearances because they all originate at
Chicago Center.
Outside the brick and steel FAA
building, controllers gathered in a
parking lot at dawn. Black smoke
billowed from the ground floor
of the facility. As firefighters and
police noisily swarmed the area,
controllers used personal cellphones to call and text their peers
at other facilities and let them
know what was taking place.

The regulations for pilots in cases of lost communication with air traffic
control in flight (FAR 91.185) generally assume it's the airplane-not the ATC
facility-that's having radio difficulties.
But the "ATC Zero" situation at Chicago Center shows the same practices
can help in case of a widespread ATC radio outage.
For pilots on IFR flight plans, radio failure is a contingency built into the
planning for each flight. Pilots in IMC should use their transponders to squawk
7600 and continue on their assigned route at their last altitude, the expected
cruise altitude, or the minimum en route altitude, whichever is highest. If pilots
on IFR flight plans encounter clear weather, they should land as soon as practical, but that doesn't mean they must land immediately.
On September 26, 2014, the date of the Chicago Center fire, pilots on IFR
flight plans reported no trouble reaching other ATC facilities, some of them by
broadcasting on 121.5. That emergency frequency is monitored by air traffic
controllers throughout the country as well as airliners in flight. Also, on that
morning, the fact that pilots could still hear and talk to each other on their
assigned radio frequencies let them know right away that the communications
problem was on the ground, and not with their individual aircraft radios.
At ATC towers, controllers have their own methods of assisting pilots with
failed radios. At towers equipped with radar, controllers might ask a pilot to
press the transponder IDENT button if to acknowledge that they can receive
radio transmissions, then and clear them
to land using the IDENT button to conWEB
firm that they hear, understand, and can
comply with ATC instructions. If the radio
LEARN MORE For an AOPA Air
Safety Foundation free
failure (or electrical power loss) is total,
online safety quiz on lost compilots should enter the traffic pattern and
munication, visit the website
look for a light signal from the tower.
(www.aopa.org/asf/asfquizzes.
That steady green means you're
cfm?SA=Quizzes&QuizID=30)
cleared to land.
-DMH

76 | AOPA PILOT January 2015

DAMAGED NERVE CENTER

James Hall, a controller and union
leader at the Chicago Tracon,
which coordinates arrivals and
departures at the city's busiest airports, said the 27 controllers on
the morning shift got their first
sign something was wrong when
Chicago Center stopped taking their handoffs and wouldn't
respond to the always-connected
telephone "shout line."
"A few minutes later we
learned the center had been evacuated," Hall said.
Details about what had started
the conflagration also began
to emerge. Howard, a contract
employee for eight years, knew the
communications network and its
vulnerabilities. Days later, he would
be charged in U.S. District Court
with destruction of aircraft facilities,
a federal crime with a maximum
penalty of 20 years in prison.
For controllers, few of whom
knew Howard personally, the
most urgent questions had to do
with fixing the compromised
national air traffic system. A gaping
91,000-square-mile hole had been
torn in the center of that network.
American, Southwest, and United
airlines-all with hubs in Chicago-
felt the brunt of the impact, with
Southwest canceling all its Midway
flights. Thousands of general aviation flights were halted, too. Early
estimates predicted it would take
many weeks, possibly months, to
repair the damaged nerve center.
Without being asked, dozens
of Chicago air traffic controllers
started driving to distant facilities in Minneapolis, Kansas City,
Indianapolis, and Cleveland, which
they knew would become inundated with redirected flights as
soon as that afternoon.
"They just got in their cars and
started driving," Hauck said. "Some
of them didn't even have a chance


http://www.aopa.org/asf/asfquizzes.cfm?SA=Quizzes&QuizID=30 http://www.aopa.org/asf/asfquizzes.cfm?SA=Quizzes&QuizID=30

AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015

Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - Cover1
AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - Cover2
AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - 2
AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - 3
AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - 4
AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - 5
AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - 6
AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - 7
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - 33
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - 35
AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - 36
AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - 37
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - 40
AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - 41
AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - 42
AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - 43
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - 45
AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - 46
AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - 47
AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - 48
AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - 49
AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - 50
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - 76
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - Cover3
AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - Cover4
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