House committee to hold hearing on bill to save Meigs Field

May 3, 2002

Statement of Phil Boyer
President
AOPA Legislative Affairs

before the

COMMITTEE ON TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE
SUBCOMMITTEE ON AVIATION
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

The Honorable John L. Mica, Chairman
The Honorable William O. Lipinski, Ranking Member

concerning

Chicago Area Airport Capacity

March 6, 2002


Chairman Mica, Ranking Member Lipinski, and members of the subcommittee, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to submit written testimony for today's hearing. My name is Phil Boyer, and I am president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). AOPA enjoys the financial support of over 380,000 dues-paying members. Our objective as an association is to promote the interests of those who contribute to our economy by taking advantage of general aviation aircraft to fulfill their business and personal transportation needs. More than half of all pilots in the United States are members of AOPA, making it the world's largest pilot organization.

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to submit comments for the record regarding the National Aviation Capacity Expansion Act. On December 5, 2001, Illinois Governor George Ryan and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley inked an historic political deal that will preserve Chicago's flagship GA airport Meigs Field for another 25 years, expand O'Hare International, and expedite the creation of a new airport at Peotone. AOPA is a strong supporter of this agreement, focusing on its importance to preserving Meigs Field. We believe it is vital that the governor and mayor's compromise agreement be embodied in federal legislation. AOPA has pledged its support to both Ranking Member Lipinski and Senator Durbin and continues to work to ensure passage of the National Aviation Capacity Expansion Act.

Congressional legislation

The House and Senate bills (H.R.3479/S.1786), identical in title and similar in content, sponsored respectively by Ranking Member William Lipinski and Senator Dick Durbin, would codify the agreement reached by Governor Ryan and Mayor Daley. The congressional decision to address the agreement legislatively reflects the importance of Chicago's airports in the national aviation system. Not just an Illinois issue, there are national benefits to meeting capacity needs by keeping Meigs Field open, expanding O'Hare, and building a new airport at Peotone.

Chicago-area airport capacity is a national issue

Chicago-area airport capacity affects air transportation virtually everywhere in the United States and has an impact on international flights. Chicago is a key transportation center, both as an originator of traffic and a connecting point for flights. Chicago airports are national airports and essential to the flow of traffic throughout the United States and around the world—delays in the Chicago area affect airports across the country and around the world.

System capacity enhancements are critical

The national aviation system capacity is returning to crises proportions. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, traffic is quickly returning, by as much as 99 percent of the levels reported prior to the events of 9/11. February traffic levels were actually higher in 2002 than last year. Additionally, more people are turning to general aviation. This combination of factors means that the nation is once again going to face the need for comprehensive planning that affects the nation's air traffic and transportation. Earlier this year, Secretary Norman Mineta stated that 50 miles of new runways in this country need to be added in the next 10 years to handle the growth of aviation. Without Meigs Field, the amount will increase to 51—shutting down a perfectly good airport makes little sense when we are desperately trying to expand capacity.

Capacity enhancements require massive amounts of federal grants; the nation must ensure that these investments are managed in the most efficient and effective manner. Hundreds of millions of federal dollars have already been spent in soundproofing and other local investments, clearly illustrating a national interest in the Chicago area's aviation improvements. It is proper in these times of fiscal accountability for the U.S. Congress to provide important assurances for federal investments in the aviation infrastructures in the Chicago area.

How the congressional legislation affects the GA community

Chicago's airports, some of the busiest aviation hubs in the nation, are also among the most delay ridden. With the ongoing concern with respect to capacity problems in the Chicago area and nationwide, it is logical to keep Meigs Field—Chicago's premier GA airport—open. The 14 general aviation airports in the area, including Meigs Field, are part of the solution to airspace congestion in the Chicago area and the overall system.

Meigs Field serves as an important air transportation access point for both airplanes and helicopters to Chicago's business district and state office building. The close proximity of the airport saves over an hour for those conducting business in the Loop—closing it has been compared to eliminating a perfectly good off-ramp from the interstate highway system. No other facility provides access to downtown like Meigs Field—it is an essential part of Chicago's economy.

History of Chicago's Meigs Field—icon of the GA community

Opened in 1948, Chicago's Merrill C. Meigs Field is an important reliever airport to Midway and O'Hare Airports for business and general aviation aircraft—with approximately 50,000 operations per year. Located on Lake Michigan, aircraft safely arrive and depart over the water rather than the city itself, with the noise footprint over the lake rather than over inhabited areas.

In 1994, however, Mayor Daley announced that Meigs would be closed and the grounds turned into a park. This prompted an outpouring of support for the airport by the aviation community as well as a lawsuit by the state of Illinois against the city. The airport actually closed for a brief period of time, but with the settlement of the suit, the city agreed to leave it temporarily open until February 2002.

AOPA has waged a six-year battle to save Meigs Field. The association has participated in lawsuits, lobbied the Illinois legislature and the U.S. Congress, produced television commercials and newspaper ads to gain legislative and public support, and worked with Chicago-area citizens on an extensive local effort to preserve the historic airport. Wherever I go, the status of Meigs is one of the first questions I always get. This little airport is important to the nation and important to the general aviation community.

Thanks to support from the aviation community and the leadership of Mayor Daley and Governor Ryan, however, Meigs Field, will remain open for at least another 25 years if Governor Ryan and Mayor Daley's agreement on Chicago airports is signed into federal law.

Mr. Chairman, thank you again for the opportunity to present our views.