Operations at John Wayne Airport’s control tower have been cut back after some air traffic controllers were possibly exposed to an employee who recently tested positive for COVID-19, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration said.
One person’s positive test on Nov. 22 forced many of the airport’s controllers to self-quarantine and has resulted the tower closing earlier than normal each day, said Ian Gregor, public affairs specialist with the FAA.
Through Sunday, there will only be two controllers working in the tower at a time, which is a reduction from the six that typically man the tower at its busiest points in the day, Gregor said.
However, Gregor and the FAA said that they have not and don’t expect to see any significant delays to travel due to the demand being reduced by the COVID-19 pandemic, even with the Thanksgiving holiday.
The normal maximum hourly arrival rate at the airport is 24 aircraft, but with limited staffing, that rate has been reduced to 10 per hour, Gregor said.
But lower-than-usual airline travel demand, during a normally peak travel period, has worked in the control tower’s favor.
“The demand (for air travel) is so much lower, I don’t know if we’re going to exceed the (reduced) maximum hourly rate at any time,” Gregor said.
He said that if flights happened to exceed the maximum, the tower’s controllers would be able to “meter” the flow of aircrafts to keep them “further apart.”
When closing earlier than usual, Terminal Radar Approach Control in San Diego will handle their airspace. All incoming flights at the airport are traditionally handed off to TRACON after hours.
Additionally, there was a positive case of COVID-19 at the Long Beach Airport on Nov. 21 as well as another at Los Angeles International on Nov. 14. However, Gregor said that operations were not affected at either airport’s control towers due to there not being the same level of exposure as there was at John Wayne Airport.
Source: Orange County Register