IBT’s Public Services Division Director Jason Rabinowitz and Public Services Division Coordinator John Mataya got the premier Teamster tour of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport during their visit with Local 700. O’Hare Equipment Training Specialists Oscar Polanco, Lisa Ellermann and Gary Davis guided the tour, along with union stewards Mark Chasen and Alonzo Goodlet. Teamsters Local 700 President Michael G. Melone set up the tour to give Director Rabinowitz a firsthand look at what the Teamsters do at the airport to ensure a safe and operational airfield every single day.
“I am always impressed by the dedication of our Teamsters at the airports,” said Teamsters Local 700 President Michael G. Melone. “The amount of training and skill that they acquire to do their jobs is unmatched. Their commitment to their craft is what truly keeps the airports safe and operational during every season.”
Many of the drivers at both O’Hare and Midway airports are specifically trained to drive anywhere on the airfield. During the 60-day training program, participants are given visual aids, maps, classroom sessions and one-on-one driving instruction. They are given a mock test on the computers in the training center to prepare for their written exam, which consists of 150 questions.
One requirement for program participants is to memorize the aviation alphabet – such as “Whiskey,” “Tango,” and “Foxtrot” to match the letters “W,” “T,” and “F.” These letter associations are used to avoid any confusion – as sometimes a “B” can sound like a “D” – when dispatchers are calling out taxiways to the drivers.
Participants are also trained on the air traffic control phraseology and must learn and memorize each phrase for the correct commands in order to communicate over the radio. For example, instead of saying “yes” or “no,” everyone must use “affirmative” or “negative” to answer a question. “Roger” is used to confirm that the last transmission was received.
The final test is an airfield driving test which must be performed without any mistakes.
Whenever the President of the United States flies into Chicago, he is greeted by a select group of drivers at O’Hare airport. Part of the aviation support staff’s duty is to escort all personnel to and from the aircraft, which also includes performing runway sweeps. The drivers each take two Secret Service agents and travel up and down the runway making sure it is safe to land the aircraft, searching for any kind of objects or activity that would be considered a threat to the President. The team also drives up a set of stairs to the President’s aircraft and makes sure everyone gets on and off the plane safely.
All of the drivers at both O’Hare and Midway airports are responsible for essentially the entire airport operation running safely and smoothly on a daily basis. When Mother Nature rolls out one of her best snowstorms, the drivers become expert snow fighters and plow the runways in a beautiful, synchronized routine. Ensuring a safe airfield and flyable conditions are the drivers’ top priority and they have been recognized multiple times for their work. Both Chicago airports have received the Balchen/Post Award from the American Association of Airport Executives for expertly maintaining safe and operational airfields during the winter season.