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John Wayne Airport tower closed over possible coronavirus case; airport still open to commercial flights

The FAA air-traffic control tower at John Wayne Airport has been closed because of a possible case of the coronavirus, the airport said Friday.
(John Wayne Airport)

The air-traffic control tower at John Wayne Airport has been closed because of a possible case of the COVID-19 coronavirus, the airport said Friday.

The airport remains open to commercial aircraft, though the general aviation runway is closed, airport spokeswoman Deanne Thompson said.

With the tower closed, air traffic is being handled by the Federal Aviation Administration’s regional control center in San Diego. The FAA doesn’t yet have a timeline for reopening the tower.

A local control manager has a “suspected but unconfirmed” case of the coronavirus after a presumptive positive test result Thursday, officials said.

The tower was closed as a precaution for “cleaning and quarantine,” officials said.

FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said the agency would not comment beyond that.

As of Friday, 321 people across Orange County have tested positive for the virus, with three related deaths, according to the county Health Care Agency.

Eleven FAA air-traffic control facilities nationwide have been affected by the virus as employees have tested positive, the agency said. That includes facilities in Las Vegas, Chicago, Indianapolis and New York. As of Friday afternoon, only towers at John Wayne and the airport in Farmingdale, N.Y., are currently closed.

The control tower at Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport closed for a week after a controller tested positive for the virus, according to local media reports. It reopened Wednesday.

According to the FAA, tower controllers handle aircraft that are taxiing on the airfield, along with those taking off and on final approach to the airport.

The larger San Diego-based control center handles airport arrivals and departures throughout Southern California, using radar.

Pilots will land visually while the John Wayne tower is closed, with direction from the San Diego-based controllers. Pilots also will take off with clearance from the regional center. Both procedures are standard for airports that don’t have towers.

“Our agency’s mission is to operate the world’s largest and most complex airspace system. But we have an equal obligation to ensure the health and safety of our employees,” the FAA said in a statement. “Each disruption has a distinct impact on the air traffic system. We are experiencing this at the handful of facilities already affected by COVID-19. This is frustrating and inconvenient but is necessary in the interest of safety.”

Passengers can check with their airlines to confirm flight status. John Wayne Airport generally is not experiencing significant delays Friday, according to fly.faa.gov.

KTLA contributed to this report.

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Updates

2:00 PM, Mar. 27, 2020: This article was originally published at 11:24 a.m. and has been updated with new information.


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