A hazmat crisis at the Federal Aviation Administration control center in Leesburg, Virginia, left hundreds of flights grounded and delayed on Monday, July 10. Normal service was resumed by Tuesday morning.
On Monday evening, at approximately 6:30 p.m., the Federal Aviation Administration's Washington Center in Leesburg, Virginia, was evacuated after harmful construction fumes reached the air traffic control room. Emergency services, including fire crews, were called around 6:40 p.m. The FAA released the following statement:
Local fire officials directed the FAA to evacuate the Washington Center in Leesburg, VA, at about 6:40 p.m. after fumes from construction work permeated the control room. The center handles high altitude flights over the area. The facility stopped accepting new flights and handed off airborne flights to other air traffic control facilities for safe handling. We are actively working to fully ventilate the facility. We will update the statement when we get new information."
Loudoun County emergency services safely evacuated the building and began ventilating the facility. Laura Rinehart, spokeswoman for the Loudoun County fire department, said
the facility was evacuated after several people complained about the fumes, which were a result of roofing work being performed in the area. Originating from an adhesive used, the fumes wafted into the facility's air-conditioning system and then spread to the control room, prompting the evacuation. Rinehart said the chemical fumes were "benign but probably nasty;" yet, 51 people were evaluated on the scene, and one woman was taken to a local hospital as a precaution because of possible exposure.
The evacuation left hundreds of flights grounded and delayed at Washington Dulles, Reagan International, and Baltimore Washington International. The FAA's Washington Center is the third-busiest control center in the U.S., covering 165,000 square miles that include North Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
Baltimore Washington Airport sent out a tweet
recommending that passengers rebook their flights ahead of time, as the facility was not expected to reopen until after 10 p.m. The facility handles flights for the entire region, creating a noticeable lack of flight paths and resulting in many disgruntled passengers.
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which oversees operations at Dulles, Reagan, and Baltimore Marshall airports, recommended passengers check in with their own airlines: "There are many flight cancellations and delays, which are expected to continue into Tuesday. Passengers should check with their airline for specific information about their flight," officials said in a 10:10 p.m. statement.
The facility was fully ventilated and resumed service around 9:30 p.m., according to a statement released by the Federal Aviation Administration.
They said that grounded flights were beginning to take off and that all flights were expected to resume normal schedules in the morning.
By 6:45 a.m., flights had resumed their schedules. Flight Radar tweeted the following to illustrate the smooth transition back to normal flight patterns:
While the hazmat evacuation still left thousands of travelers disgruntled and inconvenienced, employees of the FAA are probably glad the situation was not much worse.
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