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What does ATC do when there is an emergency? This could be a tower or an ARTCC being evacuated or otherwise unusable.

  • How do they decide whether to close the airport/airspace?
  • What do they do with the traffic, whether they do or don't close?

On this related question, it turned out that Newark closed because of smoke in the tower.

Another user posted an interesting anecdote about another tower being evacuated, so I thought it warranted a question.

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2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

The facility under duress will declare "ATC Zero" and all traffic will be handed off to other controllers while that facility is offline.

In the case of a control tower, this means the airport either acts as a non-towered field or as a closed field (depending on the nature of the emergency). If it is a TRACON, then the ARTCC will assume control of the TRACONs airpsace. If it is an ARTCC, that might present bigger problems as continuity of radio communications may be impacted and I'm not sure exactly how this would be handled but assume it would be re-routes around the ARTCC.

I've been inbound to IAH when their tower decided to close (I forget why), and the response was to put everyone inbound to IAH into holds and handle diverts when fuel became an issue.

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In the U.S., the facility will execute its OCP (Operational Contingency Plan) which is governed by FAA Order JO 1900.47C. Each facility must develop its own specific plan per these guidelines, and practice the plan at least once a year (unless the plan was actually used for real that year). (Making this a comment instead of an answer since yours is already quite good; feel free to incorporate the reference if you wish.) –  dvnrrs May 1 at 16:53

I happened to arrive in the Bridgeport, CT tower for a tower tour precisely when the boss (offsite) called an evac drill. KBDR is a non-radar tower. The two people in the tower picked up battery powered radios and evacuated to the parking lot, and continued controlling traffic from there. The controller on duty had/has a mental picture of the traffic and (at that low volume airport) he could operate just as well from the parking lot as from the tower.

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How do they coordinate with other facilities in that case (IFR arrivals / departure handoffs)? –  dvnrrs May 1 at 18:03

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