The airspace over Dallas emptied on Wednesday afternoon at the FAA’s request. The Dallas Regional Air Traffic Control Center required COVID-19 related sanitization. The two hours plus shut down followed several positive COVID-19 tests from personnel who work there and in other airspace control centers at various Dallas airports.
The shutdown primarily impacted flights from Dallas Fort Worth Airport and Dallas Love Field.
“An air traffic control center employs over 400 air traffic controllers, who work on rotating shifts to cover traffic. The controllers at ZFW are standing by for cleaning to complete, and the ground stop will be lifted once it is, which can happen at any time,” an FAA spokesperson told Austin-based news channel KXAN.
A spate of COVID-19 cases at Dallas’ Regional Air Traffic Control Center
According to the FAA’s own data, 22 employees at the Dallas Regional Air Traffic Control Center have tested positive for COVID-19 since June. That includes six positive test results both in November and December. The most recent positive test result was on Wednesday.
At Dallas Love Field, two air traffic control personnel have tested positive for COVID-19. One was in June. The other in mid-December. Four personnel have tested positive at busier Dallas Fort Worth Airport, the most recent at the end of November.
The Dallas Regional Air Traffic Control Center looks after high-altitude flying over North Texas, Northwest Louisiana, and parts of Oklahoma and Arkansas. In a statement, Dallas Fort Worth Airport said;
“The FAA has closed the airspace in and out of the DFW Airport until 5:00 p.m. Central Time.”
Flights resumed at both airports around 17:30 on Wednesday, but both airports warned of knock-on effects and delays caused by the closure.
Skies empty over Dallas and much of Texas
Last year, Dallas Fort Worth Airport handled 79.8 million passengers and was the fourth busiest airport in the United States. Nearby Love Field handled 16.7 million passengers. Even accounting for a decline in 2020, that’s a lot of people moving through the two airports every day and a lot of flights both landing and pushing back.
Looking at grabs from FlightRadar24.com, the first image shows scores of planes heading to and from the two Dallas airports. A short while later, apart from a very tight cluster of planes held on the ground in Dallas, the airspace over much of Texas largely empties.
On Wednesday evening at Dallas Fort Worth Airport, the departures board reveals a long list of delayed and canceled flights. By mid-evening, the airport expects more flights to start to depart on or near their scheduled time.
Amid the delays and cancelations at Dallas Fort Worth, only one plane appears to be diverted on Wednesday evening. A UPS Airbus A300-600 from Louisville to Dallas was diverted to El Paso.
Arrivals and departures at both airports are anticipated to return to normal overnight.