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McCarran operations still slowed as control tower remains closed

Updated March 20, 2020 - 5:25 pm

McCarran International Airport’s air traffic control tower remained closed Friday after a controller tested positive Wednesday night for COVID-19, leading to mass flight cancellations and significant delays.

The Federal Aviation Administration said there is no timetable for when operations at McCarran would be back to normal after ordering the air traffic control tower to be temporarily shut down to ensure it’s a safe work environment for controllers and technicians.

McCarran tweeted Friday that the outage is expected to impact flight schedules for the remainder of the day.

The tower’s closure forced the Las Vegas airport to rely on a backup system with limited capacity, causing over 100 flights into and out of the airport to be canceled Thursday.

More than 160 flights were canceled Friday by Southwest Airlines, McCarran’s busiest carrier. Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air said it canceled two flights on Friday and five flights that had been scheduled for Thursday were rescheduled to Friday.

McCarran has been operating at an arrival rate of 10 aircraft per hour since the incident occurred, down from the normal rate of 30 to 56 aircraft per hour, according to the FAA. A ground delay was in place at McCarran, slowing the pace of air traffic to a level controllers can safely handle.

Flights into Las Vegas that aren’t being canceled are seeing delays of eight hours on average, according to the FAA’s website.

The FAA said Friday that it is taking extra precautions at McCarran and will close the Las Vegas Terminal Radar Approach Control, which has been operating as the control tower’s backup, between midnight and 5 a.m. Saturday so crews can perform precautionary cleaning of the facility.

“The FAA is taking this action out of an abundance of caution and not because of any known medical issue involving TRACON personnel,” the agency said in a statement.

The Los Angeles Air Route Traffic Control Center will assume the TRACON’s airspace while the facility is closed, which is standard FAA protocol.

The FAA scheduled the facility’s cleaning to occur when traffic volume is typically at its lowest levels.

The TRACON will resume controlling its airspace when the cleaning is completed, while the air traffic control tower remains closed, according to the FAA.

The agency said it was still working to determine how many other air traffic controllers will have to self-isolate after being exposed to the controller who tested positive.

A similar situation played out at Chicago’s Midway International Airport on Tuesday, when multiple technicians tested positive for the novel coronavirus, leading to the closure of their air traffic control tower.

Like McCarran, Midway remains open with reduced operations, as the tower remained closed Friday, according to the FAA.

Contact Mick Akers at makers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2920. Follow @mickakers on Twitter.

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