FAA fines Chicago city aviation department $1.5 million over O’Hare runway mishap

The Federal Aviation Administration says the city didn’t do enough to keep a runway safe Nov. 11 when a jet slid on snowy pavement in one of a number of alarming incidents in recent years.

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The airplane that slid from an O’Hare Airport runway on Nov. 11, 2019. Nobody was injured.

The airplane that slid from an O’Hare Airport runway on Nov. 11, 2019. Nobody was injured.


Federal regulators are taking the unusual step of fining the Chicago Department of Aviation $1.5 million for failing to keep an O’Hare Airport runway safe during snowy and slick conditions last November that might have contributed to yet another jet sliding off a landing strip.

The aviation department has a “snow and ice control plan” that mandates “the airport to take specific safety actions if two consecutive flight crews report poor braking action after landing,” according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

“On Nov. 11, 2019, at least two consecutive flight crews reported poor braking action three separate times after landing on Runway 10-Left” at O’Hare, according to the FAA, which regulates U.S. airports, airlines and airspace.

But it says the city agency “failed to limit operations on that runway, conduct a runway condition assessment, inform airlines about potentially unsafe conditions or limit operations to safe portions of the airport” and “allowed a total of 43 aircraft to land on Runway 10-Left following the consecutive reports of poor braking action.

“One of those aircraft, Envoy Airlines Flight 4125, slid off the runway due to poor braking action.”

No one was injured. Envoy operates under the American Eagle banner.

The fine comes months after the FAA hammered the department with a $1.3 million penalty for violating training regulations for firefighters and aircraft rescue.

Chicago Aviation Commissioner Jamie Rhee.

Chicago Aviation Commissioner Jamie Rhee.

Rich Hein / Sun-Times file

The city plans to challenge the latest fine, according to Matt McGrath, a spokesman for Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s aviation commissioner, Jamie Rhee.

“We do not agree with the findings and allegations as laid out here and intend to avail ourselves of our right to submit additional and mitigating information,” said McGrath, who wouldn’t go into what his agency thinks occurred on the runway that day. “We’re not going to discuss this outside of the proper venue, which in this case is the FAA administrative process.”

O’Hare runways have been the source of a number of incidents amid snowy or wet conditions in recent years, the Chicago Sun-Times has reported. The FAA noted in issuing the latest fine that it “previously issued a warning letter ... in January 2017 concerning similar violations at O’Hare in 2015 and 2016.”

One incident occurred shortly after Christmas 2015 when city crews allowed “aircraft to continue to use” a runway “when pilot reports indicated conditions were deteriorating,” according to the FAA. As planes took off and landed, several of them “lost” parts, and one aborted takeoff after hitting an unidentified object on the runway.

The Sun-Times has reported there also have been mishaps involving ground vehicles and even other planes accidentally crossing active runways.

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