Chicago’s downtown reliever airport, lakefront Meigs Field, reopened February 10 following a city-state compromise to continue operating the airport. Phil Boyer, president of AOPA—which led the national fight to reopen the airport in concert with local pilots—was among the first pilots to land at Meigs reopening day.
“Good morning, Meigs Tower, it’s a pleasure to be talking to you again,” Boyer radioed as he approached Meigs Field. AOPA frequently uses Meigs to conduct business in Chicago, as do hundreds of individuals and companies needing fast access to Chicago’s business district.
Aircraft returning to Meigs Monday also included a single-engine Piper Archer flown by Rufus Hunt of the Tuskegee Airmen, which sponsors an educational activity program for inner-city youth at Meigs. The large Gulfstream II business jet from Crown Equipment of New Bremen, Ohio, was also there early on opening day, transporting 13 employees to a trade show at nearby McCormick Place.
Governor Jim Edgar, who flew in aboard the state’s business airplane from the Illinois capital at Springfield, told the crowd of reporters and airport supporters, “I’m delighted to see Meigs open. I think it will prove to be an even more important economic asset to the city and the state than it was before.”
Recognizing AOPA’s influential role in reopening Meigs Field, Governor Edgar asked Boyer to join him at the microphone. “Closing Meigs was more than a city or state issue, and more than a blow to the national air transportation system,” Boyer said. “To the 340,000 pilots I represent, this closing also symbolized what could happen to their community airports. We’re proud to be able to come back today to a Meigs Field with no Xs on the runway.”
The city-state compromise calls for the city to operate and promote the use of Meigs for five years and install a state-funded instrument approach system. The city has already made needed repairs to the airport, including fixing runway pavement cracks and sprucing up the terminal building.
Initially, the Meigs control tower will operate from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. But the agreement also calls for the city to extend operating hours until midnight.
“These changes, particularly a new instrument approach, will greatly increase the utilization of Meigs,” said Boyer. “The airport will become even more important to Chicago’s economy.”
Governor Edgar echoed Boyer’s assessment, saying, “Give Meigs five years and it will prove itself.”
Chicago’s lakefront airport has operated continuously since 1946, providing direct air transportation to The Loop (Chicago’s downtown business district) and Chicago’s lakefront McCormick Place convention center. Meigs Field has been in the national aviation spotlight since 1980 when then-mayor Jane Byrne first proposed closing the airport. Last year, Mayor Richard M. Daley said he wanted to turn the airport into a $27 million nature park.
AOPA and others—including the National Business Aircraft Association, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, and local groups such as The Friends of Meigs—have been campaigning vigorously to prevent the airport’s destruction. AOPA argued Meigs’ value for regional business and commerce, for emergency air services, and, as the FAA-designated reliever airport, reducing general aviation traffic at overcrowded O’Hare and Midway airports. Some 40,000 flights a year would have diverted to Midway alone had Meigs remained closed.
The association first worked to convince Mayor Daley to change his park plans. It also mounted a public information campaign, including placing full-page advertisements in local newspapers.
AOPA also worked closely with Illinois Governor Edgar and Illinois Transportation Secretary Kirk Brown, both strong Meigs supporters. In September 1996, AOPA, NBAA, GAMA, and other plaintiffs filed suit in federal court to stop Chicago from closing Meigs. The state of Illinois filed a similar suit in state court. When both courts declined to issue temporary restraining orders, Chicago closed Meigs Field October 1. But Governor Edgar, with the support of AOPA and other Meigs advocates, convinced the Illinois Legislature to pass a bill permitting state take-over of the airport. Chicago and Illinois then reached the compromise that led to reopening and improving Meigs Field.
February 11, 1997