ORD’s repeated Snow Removal problems reason to move to SMS?

O'Hare snow removal
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Airport Field Condition Assessments and Winter Operations Safety (AC No: 150/5200-30D)is a vital, but difficult aspect of Airport Safety. First, airports do not have to deal with snow on a year round basis. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to maintain a team of experts twelve months a year. There is an off-season to train the multiple purpose staff.

CDA snow statement

Second and perhaps foremost, the senior management team is all too often ignorant of the challenge of field snow removal on the runways, taxiways and gate areas. Coordinated communications among the ground crews, the airport control team and the aircraft landing and taking off. The discipline required to have an effective Winter Operations must be driven from the top and this is not a subject matter with which many airport directors are familiar.

CDA Director Jamie Rhee









The problems at O’Hare[1] are not unique. Similar issues have been identified at Cleveland, Detroit, and other northern airports.

Whistleblower reports Cleveland airport snow and ice problems to FAA


Detroit airport disputes $200,000 FAA fine for snow, ice removal


FAA to Airports: Clear the Snow This Winter. Or Else


FAA Record Airport Fine And New Compliance Policy May Help Move The Part 139 Holders To SMS


Cleveland Airport Fine

The human errors so often involved in snow removal, under Safety Management System, are precisely the data that are used to identify trends. The SMS statistical methodology develops a prioritized, quantified agenda. The process then brings all involved in the operation (broadly interpreted) to examine the issues and design practical, immediate solutions.

Perhaps if all of the Northern Airports participated on this data driven approach, the problems at issue at ORD and other airfields might have been identified and solved on a preventative basis.

A civil penalty of $1.5 M may get the attention of senior management and will be noticed by other airports. If, however, SMS applied to all large Part 139 certificates, the solution would have overtaken the problem.  

SMS airport graphic








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

FAA logo


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.

By Robert Herguth  Aug 28, 2020, 5:15pm CDT


AA Enjoy airplane

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

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.

Runway Condition Check

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.

CDA 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.”

Despite O’Hare safety boasts, FAA slammed city’s handling of winter operations

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.


[1] ORD is a seven-time winner of the Balchen/Post Award for outstanding achievement in airport snow and ice control. It is an annual award sponsored by the Northeast Chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives. Gary / Chicago International Airport won  the 2018-2019 Balchen / Post Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Small General Aviation Snow and Ice Control Category.

ORD ALP map and plow


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