March 31, 2003
Sneaking in under the cover of darkness, city of Chicago construction crews began tearing up the runway at Meigs Field this morning at about 1:30 a.m. There was no advance warning, not even to the FAA. Some 16 aircraft are stranded on the field. A city source told the Chicago media that the "airport is closed for good" for "homeland security reasons."
"We are absolutely shocked and dismayed," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Mayor Daley has no honor and his word has no value. The sneaky way he did this shows that he knows it was wrong."
Boyer immediately fired faxes off to FAA Administrator Marion Blakey and Transportation Security Administration chief Adm. James M. Loy to discuss possible solutions.
"During a period when the country is at war in the Middle East, why must the mayor of Chicago also play dictator with a most valuable airport and cause additional turmoil inside our own country?" asked Boyer.
"While federal and state airport laws may not have been broken by this action, in December 2001 he pledged to keep the airport open, in support of federal legislation that granted him expansion of O'Hare airport. The mayor has broken his promise not only to the citizens of his own city, but also to the pilots of America.
"We will once again explore the legality of this action, but past research indicates that the law hasn't been broken," Boyer continued. "However, we're not going to allow the mayor to hide behind the fiction of 'homeland security' for his reprehensible action."
The city's actions caught everyone by surprise. Despite Mayor Richard M. Daley's penchant for publicity, the news media was caught off-guard. The FAA was not able to issue a notam on the closing until hours after the fact.
In fact, the FAA is looking into fining the city for violations of FAR Part 157, which requires advance notice of the deactivation, discontinuance, or abandonment of an airport or any landing or takeoff area of an airport for a period of one year or more.
The Meigs control tower had no idea about the closing. Closing the airport also closes the tower, which monitored the airspace near downtown Chicago. Ironically, while Daley frequently complains "nobody knows anything about those airplanes flying near Chicago," closing the tower means that there is now no air traffic control exercised over aircraft flying along the lakefront.
AOPA's Legislative Affairs office reports that even some members of the Illinois congressional delegation were caught unawares, particularly interesting since those members of Congress had been working with Mayor Daley on legislation that would preserve Meigs and expand O'Hare International Airport. As late as Friday afternoon, AOPA was in discussions with key staffers from the Illinois delegation concerning that legislation.
The action surprised the Meig's Field FBO. When they asked the city what would happen to the aircraft trapped at the field, the FBO was told, "That's your problem." However, AOPA's Midwest Regional Representative Bill Blake reports that the stranded aircraft may be allowed to depart using the taxiway sometime this week.
Chicago Mayor Daley had sought to close Meigs until a year ago, when an historic agreement between the city and the state of Illinois "guaranteed" the airport's survival for 25 years. Daley gave his word that he would not seek to close Meigs in exchange for support for his plan to expand O'Hare International Airport and build a new airport at Peotone.
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