Air traffic around Memphis grounded

The Associated Press

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Communications equipment failed Tuesday at a regional air-traffic control center, shutting down all airline traffic within 250 miles of Memphis and causing a ripple effect across the country that grounded dozens of passenger and cargo flights.

The problem started when a major telephone line to the Memphis center went out at 11:35 a.m. The Federal Aviation Administration said air-traffic control operations were back to normal about three hours later.

Air-traffic control centers in adjacent regions handled flights that were already in the air when the problem was discovered.

"The airspace was completely cleared by 1:30 [p.m.] Eastern time," FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said.

High-altitude flights through the region - which includes parts of Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee - were discontinued while the equipment was being fixed.

"What we did is put a ground stop in place for any flight that would transition through that airspace. We held them on the ground wherever they were, whether it was Miami, Seattle, Los Angeles, Boston," Bergen said.

The FAA's action had a ripple effect in several airports. Some airlines experienced delays of up to three hours and were still recovering from the outage Tuesday evening, Air Transport Association spokesman David Castelveter said.

David Magana, a spokesman at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, said about 50 flights had been delayed, but were in the process of departing Tuesday afternoon. About 50 other flights had to be canceled.

Memphis, with the headquarters of shipping giant FedEx Corp., is the world's busiest airport for cargo, handling 4.08 million tons of air freight in 2006. The Memphis airport also is a hub for Northwest Airlines.

FedEx Express had to divert only 11 incoming flights, which caused no major disruption in its delivery schedules, company spokeswoman Sandra Munoz said.