A major earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand shut down the city’s airport and caused the evacuation of the country’s main air traffic control center, grounding flights nationwide.
Christchurch International Airport is closed to all commercial flights until at least 7p.m. (local time), following a magnitude 6.3 earthquake that struck before 1p.m. on Feb. 22. An airport spokeswoman says it should be open again – for domestic operations at least – by Feb. 23.
ATC provider Airways New Zealand is based in Christchurch, and it was forced to evacuate its main ATC center. The center was found to be structurally sound and staff returned, although ATC service is still limited.
Departing flights at airports around the country were kept on the ground for at least an hour until basic services could be restored. Airborne flights reverted to a contingency procedure known as traffic information broadcast by aircraft (TIBA).
At Christchurch airport, engineers are checking the terminal and runways. The runways appear to be unaffected, the airport spokeswoman says. The airport is allowing medical evacuation flights to operate. There are likely to be more injuries than local hospitals can handle, so hospitals around the country are preparing to accept the overflow.
Passengers and administrative workers were evacuated quickly, says the airport spokeswoman. The terminal appears to have escaped lightly compared with the rest of the city. There are some ceiling tiles down, and sprinklers were set off, but none of the large windows were broken. A new terminal building that is under construction may be damaged, but there are no details yet.
There were no reports of damage to aircraft or ground equipment. The control tower at the airport also escaped unscathed.
This is the second major earthquake to hit Christchurch in the past five months. Christchurch is New Zealand’s second-largest city, and its airport is served by several New Zealand and international carriers.