The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that it will plan a series of changes for faster disaster recovery at airports after a disgruntled employee set fire to the Chicago control centre in September.
Transportation secretary Anthony Foxx and FAA administrator Michael Huerta had called for a review of contingency plans and facility and personnel security protocols, which came to the conclusion that there was a need to revise its contingency strategy and policies to support recovery within hours, instead of days by increasing the flexibility of its air traffic technology.
The fire had led to the cancellation of thousands of flights, costing the airlines $350m. Close to 200 controllers had to be temporarily transferred to other facilities. The facility was finally reopened on 13 October.
Foxx said: "The FAA ensured planes and passengers landed safely when disaster struck, that was the top priority and we did it. But we can and will improve our contingency plans for efficiency.
"We have a national infrastructure deficit facing our nation from which the national aviation system is not immune. The FAA needs a stable and reliable funding stream to fully implement NextGen, which will further reduce delays and service disruptions."
The FAA has said that it will adjust and refine the agency’s risk assessment approach for both facility and personnel security to make sure that it can meet the unique needs of each facility.
The agency will introduce the planned changes in three stages depending on the availability of resources.
The three stages would include making radar, voice radios, flight planning data and weather and aeronautical information more rapidly available, reducing or removing the manual nature of operations by recreating specific sectors and services of the offline facility at surrounding facilities and by enhancing NextGen capabilities to make services available even more quickly if a facility has a catastrophic loss.
Huerta said: "We hope to never see an event like this again. But, we must be prepared.
"The capabilities delivered through NextGen will allow us to maintain the highest levels of safety and restore normal operations quickly as a result of a major event like the one at Chicago."