Practical Technology

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How the Air Traffic Control system works and fails

On Friday, Jan. 25, the Federal Aviation Administration¬†(FAA) issued a ground stop at New York City’s LaGuardia (LGA) airport. In other words, if you’re trying to fly to or from LGA: Forget it.

The reason? Thanks to President Donald Trump’s government shutdown, unpaid air traffic controllers were calling in sick in unprecedented numbers. Without enough air traffic controllers at their desks, the FAA shut down traffic to LGA. Simultaneously, airports across the Eastern seaboard saw flight delays increase, as the Air Traffic Control (ATC) system strained under the load. The FAA reported 7.6 percent of TSA workers had an “unscheduled absence” on Thursday.

Trump has now backed down, deciding to temporarily reopen the government. For a few weeks, at least, the ATC controllers will be back on the job, and planes will be flying as usual.

But here’s why LGA closed, and why the entire commercial air system was in danger of falling apart like a row of dominos.

How the Air Traffic Control system works and fails More>

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