The Federal Aviation Authority’s Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center in Hilliard has reopened after a positive COVID-19 test caused a temporary Monday-afternoon shutdown.
The center, which handles flight control for airlines, private planes and military flights around the Southeast, resumed operations at 6 p.m. after it was cleaned following an employee’s positive test for the virus, the FAA said.
The 70-minute shutdown started at 4:20 p.m., after the FAA confirmed that the COVID-19 positive came Sunday, one of 11 reported there since June. That meant there was the potential to cause “delays and/or cancellations,” according to the Jacksonville International Airport. But the FAA says it has a new contingency plan for every air traffic control facility so it can “quickly address the effects of the COVID-19 public health emergency” at any affected center.
“During that time, flights will be rerouted around the airspace or handled by underlying facilities,” the statement read.
The Hilliard domestic air traffic control facility handles communication with pilots in between arrival and departure airports. It handles an average of about 8,600 operations a day, half of it private air carriers, another 30 percent general aviation, and the rest military, the FAA said.
The center is responsible for about 160,000 square miles of airspace that covers parts of Alabama, Georgia and Florida, plus North and South Carolina. Its controllers also handle flights over parts of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, plus 20 military and about 225 civilian airports.
Multiple FAA air traffic facilities have been affected in recent months by COVID-related issues, according to the administration’s online information site at faa.gov/coronavirus/map. The FAA said it has been able to greatly reduce the amount of time that its facilities remain closed for COVID-19-related cleaning, going from six to eight hours down to as little as 90 minutes.
“Our collaboration with labor partners and agency medical staff resulted in a cleaning regimen that enables us to respond quickly,” its statement read. “We now use repeat contractors and have defined clear scopes of work. We continually coordinate among air traffic control, technical operations and airline industry to minimize the time that we revert to a contingency operation.
According to the Jacksonville airport’s online flight departure and arrival website at flyjacksonville.com/content2015.aspx?id=440, most were still listed as on time.
Dan Scanlan: (904) 359-4549
This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: FAA’s Hilliard traffic control center reopens after Monday shutdown due to confirmed COVID-19 case