This entry is part 20 of 22 in the series Winter - 2017


Ginger Evans

Commissioner of the Department of Aviation
City of Chicago

by Beth Etter

The theme throughout most of Ginger Evans work is “simplify.” As the commissioner of the Department of Aviation for the city of Chicago – overseeing O’Hare and Midway International airports – Evans is responsible for ensuring that these facilities increase their efficiency and capacity and focus on customer service, while having the least possible impact on the neighbors.

This work, which draws on 30 years of aviation experience at Denver International Airport, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, and more, is perfectly suited to Evans’ engineering training at Colorado State University. “The best part of the engineering curriculum was to be a problem-solver,” she says.

“How you split a large problem into a series of smaller problems — that basic approach is one that I still use today.”

Evans (B.S., ‘77; M.S., ‘79) began her aviation career with DIA, after years working on road projects and coal mines. She was already designing pavements at the airport as a consultant when a project manager position became available. Though she was new to the field of aviation, Evans was familiar with the administration and knowledgeable about the project.

“There are certain rules and regulations you have to learn, but you also bring some lessons with you,” she says. “Then, I drove around the site with maintenance and had lunch at the fire station to listen to how they view service roads and fences. I sat in the air traffic control tower, watching and listening. All of that was on-the-job training.”

Evans is particularly proud of the airfield configuration at DIA, a four-quadrant design that allows three planes to land at the same time in all weather conditions and instrumentation that allows select runway thresholds to be either east or west, depending on the time of day and volume. “We tweaked the plan to make it more efficient. Air traffic supported it, the FAA gave us significant funding recognizing the positive impact it would have on efficiency to the National Airspace System, and then we were able to proceed,” she says.

Evans has been credited by DIA’s top contractors for getting the airport finished.

Evans approaches new ventures by becoming “a highly informed stakeholder. Once you put the information all together, you think about how it could be done better, how to improve it.”

One way that she has approached improvement is through simplifying. “As a young engineer, I learned a lesson from President Reagan. His staff had to brief him on an issue in one page. He wouldn’t read it otherwise. If you can distill information that crisply, people will understand it and retain it better.”

And briefing people on technical matters – whether it’s the mayor, airport staff, or outreach to the local Chicago community – is a big portion of her job now.

In addition to community briefings and other speeches, Evans is building her team and her program, a large undertaking that keeps her working from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and on the weekends.

Soon, though, the projects will take flight and Evans will be asking her team to simplify the complex problems they encounter, put the pieces together, and come up with ideas for how to improve it.