Incident at ATC Control Center Underscores Need for Congressional Action to Modernize Infrastructure in the Sky

WASHINGTON, July 11, 2017 – Airlines for America (A4A), the industry trade organization for the leading U.S. airlines, today commended first responders for their swift action to contain the hazardous materials incident at the Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center in Leesburg, Va. last night. The air traffic control (ATC) facility manages traffic in the east coast airspace from Washington, D.C. to New York City.

“We are very grateful no one was hurt,” said A4A President and CEO Nicholas E. Calio. “This disruption underscores the dilapidated facilities, short staffing and lack of contingency planning that make the case for air traffic control modernization legislation that is being considered on Capitol Hill. It is an object example of why opponents of modernization should get their heads out of the sand.

“Despite the $7.4 billion spent during the last 10 years, our antiquated air traffic control facilities do not have the technology to ensure that when disruptions occur, air traffic can be transferred to another facility. Stable funding for facilities and a streamlined procurement system are critical elements of the modernization effort going to the House floor next week.

“Last night, more than 100,000 passengers experienced first-hand the shortcomings of our outdated air traffic control infrastructure,” said Calio. “This should be a wake-up call for Members of Congress who have not committed to voting yes on air traffic control reform, that modernizing our system is an important vote that will bring tremendous benefits to the flying and shipping public.”

Following a 2014 incident at the Chicago En Route Center in Aurora, Ill., the Department of Transportation Inspector General Report found that the Federal Aviation Administration lacked adequate contingency plans and procedures for transferring ATC operations to other facilities to help restore normal operations.

Yesterday’s incident clearly demonstrates that bureaucratic hurdles and government red tape continue to stand in the way of progress. Now more than ever, our nation must take action to provide our ATC professionals in the tower with the modern tools, infrastructure and governance they need to keep our national airspace open for business.

Benefits of modernizing the nation’s ATC system will include: enhanced safety, reduced delays, fuel savings, reduced emissions, increased capacity and greater operational efficiency.


Airlines for America (A4A) members are Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines, FedEx, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines and UPS. Air Canada is an associate member.

A4A advocates on behalf of the leading U.S. airlines, both passenger and cargo carriers. A4A works collaboratively with industry stakeholders, federal agencies, the Administration, Congress, labor and other groups to improve aviation for the traveling and shipping public.

For more information about the airline industry, visit our website and our blog, A Better Flight Plan, at

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