No Chicago Airport Changes Planned After Philly Breach

Perimeter fence was breached in Philadelphia on Thursday and an alleged drunken driver sped down a runway in excess of 100 mph

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    NEWSLETTERS

    An SUV on Thursday crashed through a perimeter fence and sped onto a runway at Philadelphia International Airport. Could the same type of thing happen in Chicago? Charlie Wojciechowski reports. (Published Friday, Mar 2, 2012)

    Officials with Chicago's Department of Aviation said no security changes were planned at the city's airports one day after a perimeter fence was breached in Philadelphia and an alleged drunken driver sped down a runway in excess of 100 mph.

    The CDA says it "... and its partner agencies have a multi-layered security approach in place to address such incidents."

    But for some experts, Thursday's incident in the City of Brotherly Love highlights an area of concern.

    "There is a misconception that airports are sealed property. There's lot of entry. You've got trucks. You've got service vehicles. It's a whole highway into the system," said DePaul University transportation professor Joseph Schweiterman. "Things like this can happen with human error or, in this case, a plain old violation of security."

    Since 2001,  the Transportation Security Administration has reported approximately 25,000 security breaches at the nation’s airports, including more than 2,600 incidents of people gaining access to sterile areas without going through full screenings, and over 1,000 incidents where unauthorized individuals tried to gain access from the airport’s perimeter.

    At O'Hare, that perimeter is mostly a chain-link fence that runs not far from some runways.

    "You've got a big perimeter. You've got fences that have to be moved with the modernization program. You've got just hundreds of vehicles coming in the site a day. [There are] lots of opportunities there for something to go wrong," said Schweiterman.

    Midway Airport, a congested facility within close proximity to residences, presents its own challenges, he said.

    Back in Philadelphia, 24-year-old Kenneth Richard Mazik is being charged with disrupting operations at the airport and endangering safety there, the U.S. attorney said Friday.

    The case has no connection to terrorism, investigators said, and the Jeep tested negative for explosives and other hazardous materials. Mazik also faces DUI and reckless endangerment charges.

    The SUV caused pilots and air-traffic controllers to scramble and make last-minute adjustments in the air and on the ground, affecting dozens of aircraft.

    Audio from ATC.net: Philadelphia Airport Security Breach

    One flight was about 20 seconds from touching down when it had to pull up suddenly after a controller spotted the vehicle on the tarmac in foggy conditions, said Don Chapman, president of Philadelphia local of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

    "The controller working the landing runway noticed a target come onto the runway in front of this airplane," Chapman said. "It's a very close call."

    In a federal affidavit, authorities said Mazik accelerated through a metal fence as a plane approached the runway and drove faster than 100 mph on the tarmac. Authorities estimated that 75 aircraft had to circle the airport to prepare for landing and 80 were prevented from departing on time.

    According to a flurry of radio transmissions, pilots struggled to figure out just what was going on. One on the ground radioed: "I don't trust this guy. Are you OK if we pull off the runway in case he comes right at us?"

    Airport spokeswoman Victoria Lupica said that the facility's perimeter is secure and meets federal standards and that this was the first case of a vehicle getting onto the runway at the airport.

    Ann Davis, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration, said the response by police and airport officials showed that the system worked since the suspect was spotted, pursued by police and arrested in five minutes. The TSA and the airport are reviewing the incident, Davis said in a statement.

    Kenneth Richard Mazik