May 13, 2003
Statement of Bill Dunn
Vice President, Regional Affairs Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association
ILLINOIS SENATE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE
The Honorable Ira Silverstein, Chairman The Honorable Debbie DeFrancesco Halvorson, Vice-Chair
May 12, 2003
Good afternoon, I am Bill Dunn, vice president of regional affairs for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). AOPA is the world's largest civil aviation organization, representing over 395,000 dues-paying members nationwide and more than 14,000 in Illinois who own or fly general aviation aircraft—more than half of all pilots in the United States. As an association, our objective is to protect and preserve access of general aviation pilots to the nation's airspace and airports. We are pleased to be here today, to testify before this committee on an issue that is of great importance to our members in Illinois and throughout the entire United States—Meigs Field.
The aviation community lost an icon when Chicago's Meigs Field closed and its runways destroyed in the still of the night. Without warning, notice, or due process, this important downtown airport received a death sentence at the hands of bulldozers and backhoes.
AOPA has battled Mayor Daley and the city of Chicago for more than 10 years to ensure Meigs Field would continue to serve its key role within the national aviation system, rather than being turned into a park. The 3,900-foot runway at Meigs provided general aviation operators with an ideal location to access the heart of Chicago. In addition to being an integral part of the city's disaster relief plan and providing medical airlift transportation needs, the federal government listed Meigs in the National Plan of Integrated Airport System (NPIAS), identifying its important role within the national air transportation system.
After expending tremendous resources to save the airport, which included lawsuits and negotiations with Mayor Daley and then-Illinois Governor Ryan, an agreement was finally reached in 2001 between then Governor Ryan and Mayor Daley to keep Meigs open for at least 25 years. This was embodied in federal legislation that unfortunately the United State Congress never had an opportunity to address.
With blatant disregard for the airport's importance, city officials destroyed the lone runway at Chicago's Meigs Field under the cover of night for "homeland security reasons." AOPA was shocked and outraged that an elected official, using the pretext of national security, could destroy a national asset, create a significant safety risk, and reduce capacity in an area already faced with significant aviation congestion. In fact, we have received feedback not just nationwide, but all around the world of aviators and non-aviators alike who are also shocked and dismayed over the closure of Meigs. In addition, AOPA has received comments from officials within the Federal Aviation Administration and several members of Congress who are equally dismayed and willing to support efforts to re-open Meigs.
Operations that used to be accommodated from Meigs Field already constrain other nearby airports. In fact, it was just recently reported that residents living near Midway are complaining to city officials about increased noise at the airport due to increased general aviation traffic since Meigs was closed.
Chicago's airports are not independent; they operate as a system. When considering the future of Chicago's air transportation system, you must not ignore the need to re-open Meigs Field. We strongly encourage the legislature to address the Meigs Field issue and to allow for the airport's reopening. AOPA and the entire aviation community look forward to working with you to undo this atrocity and to identify ways in which operations can be restored to Meigs Field.
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AOPA thanks our members for their continued support in protecting the freedom to fly.