CDA deputy commissioner retired after falsifying Midway Airport runway conditions

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago's inspector general is accusing a city official of altering the reporting of runway conditions at Midway Airport, potentially risking passenger safety.

A report from the city inspector general revealed a Department of Aviation deputy commissioner changed runway conditions from "wet" to "dry" at the urging of an airline.

That unnamed, high-ranking official ended up retiring after the inspector general recommended they be fired. Now, the Federal Aviation Administration is investigating.

"Thinking about the number of people that were put in jeopardy by these people's actions is just astounding," said ABC News contributor Steve Ganyard.

The incident happened in 2018. The report alleges that the deputy commissioner took a phone call from an airline employee who requested the change. The commissioner reportedly took the call at home when he was off, telling investigators "the airline official had a financial motivation for requesting the change in status, because the airline could not include as many passengers on planes landing on a wet airfield."

"They allowed this airline to add more people onto the airplane. What that does, it cuts down on the margin of safety that a pilot has, either landing or taking off, if they need to stop short," Ganyard said.

The former deputy commissioner is now on the city's do not hire list.

Measuring just 1 square mile, Midway has some of the shortest runways of any major airport.

In 2005, a Southwest Airlines jet overran a snowy runway and crashed through a barrier into cars outside the airport, killing a 6-year-old boy.

Though the Office of Inspector General does not name the airline in question, sources tell ABC7 it's Southwest.

Southwest Airlines released a statement saying:

"The Safety of our Employees and Customers is the uncompromising priority at Southwest Airlines and we would never put that Safety at risk. Across the board, Southwest is focused on maintaining a culture of compliance, recognizing Safety across our operation is absolutely the most important consideration.

Specific to this situation, Southwest refutes any allegations it attempted to influence or exert any pressure on how airfield conditions were recorded at Midway Airport.

Any implication that we would place anything above Safety is unfounded."


A Chicago Department of Aviation spokesperson said the safety of passengers was never at risk.

The full statement is provided below:

"The safety and security of our airports is CDA's highest priority, and we can confidently say it was not compromised during this specific incident. In order to ensure safety, there are redundancies and multiple inputs built into the system -- including airport, air traffic control, and airline personnel -- and one person alone cannot dictate that planes land or take off in unsafe conditions. However, CDA still took this issue seriously, and immediately referred it to the OIG's office when made aware of the allegations. In the meantime, all Midway airfield personnel have been retrained, airfield management responsibilities have been overhauled, and the individual involved has since left the department."
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