CLEVELAND (WJW) – The FOX 8 I-Team has uncovered a breakdown in safety equipment at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport so alarming, a manager in the control tower fired off an email to the mayor’s office.

And, we’ve learned the problem has been going on for years.

The air traffic manager in the control tower sent an email to the Chief of Staff for Mayor Justin Bibb.

The memo says no one can count on an emergency line called the “crash phone.”

The crash phone serves as a way for the tower to call airport firefighters without dialing.

The air traffic manager wrote, “The system is severely unreliable…” And, “constantly out of service.” She added, “We never know if the system will work.”

The e-mail goes on to say that this has been an “ongoing issue for several years.” And, it’s “only getting worse.”

We shared this with a flight attendant.

She reacted by saying, “We are safety professionals, and we expect our passengers to be safe. Knowing in the back of our head that our airport might not be completely safe? It’s not fair.”

We also turned to Robert Katz, a commercial pilot and flight instructor. He’s been a pilot more than 40 years.

Katz said, “It’s as critical as it gets.”

He pointed out, you can’t rely on someone calling 911 if something happens on the airfield.

In fact, that e-mail from the tower also said, “the seconds that we waste could make all the difference…”

Robert Katz added, “It strikes me as unconscionable that something like this could fall through the cracks. There needs to be an open line 24-7 between the tower and the facilities on the airport.”

The Hopkins Airport fire department sits at the end of a road almost in the shadow of the control tower:

Multiple sources confirm issues with the crash phone for a very long time.

The Federal Aviation Administration sent a statement saying it discovered the problem during a recent annual inspection of city facilities.

“The FAA identified the inoperative crash phone during a regular annual inspection on September 7, 2023. The airport took immediate steps to establish an alternate way to contact Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting in case of an emergency. They are responsible for installing a new system as a permanent fix.”

The city also issued a statement but did not say exactly when the emergency phone line will be fixed.

The city said, “Safety and security are the number one priority at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.  We are aware of the email you mentioned.  We take great pride in our relationship with our regulatory partners.   We can assure you that the longer-term improvements to this system are in process and will be implemented as expeditiously as possible.  The status of the procurement was much further along than stated in the email you are referencing in your inquiry.  Although upgrades are being made to the current system, there has always been a contingency plan in place, which is approved by the FAA.”

We’ve learned a crash phone might be used for any emergency on the airfield. For instance, when a plane is coming in with engine trouble or having problems with landing gear.