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FAA chief to visit sabotaged Chicago area air traffic center

CHICAGO - The head of the Federal Aviation Administration will visit a regional control center sabotaged by a fire that shut down Chicago's two international airports and snarled air traffic nationwide, the agency said Thursday.

Administrator Michael P. Huerta will visit the center in Aurora, Illinois and meet with Illinois' congressional delegation on Friday, a week after a contract employee started a fire in the basement telecommunications room before attempting to commit suicide by slashing his throat. The fire caused widespread damage, and the FAA said it would replace the entire central communications network at the center.

Air traffic turmoil: How one act can disrupt thousands of flights

Huerta has said crews are working around the clock to replace equipment, and he hopes to return the facility to full service by Oct. 13.

Although the center's responsibilities have been transferred to other Midwest cities, delays and cancellations have persisted. On Thursday, a combination of bad weather and lingering effects of the fire caused about 750 flight cancellations at O'Hare and Midway international airports, Chicago aviation officials said.

At the height of the travel misery last Friday, more than 2,000 flights in and out of the airports were canceled, causing a ripple effect that disrupted travel across the country.

Lawmakers have called for an investigation into how the employee entered the building with a suitcase without causing suspicion. Huerta has said the FAA is reviewing security at all of its facilities, as well as contingency plans for unexpected events like the fire. 5 to 10 years

Brian Howard, 36, of Naperville, is accused of the starting the fire that destroyed the airport facilities.

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