Week closes with 'ups' and 'downs' in Meigs battle

May 23, 2003

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Following on the heels of AOPA's highly publicized press conference yesterday proposing a "buy-out" plan to save Meigs Field, there were major legal setbacks for the scarred airport today. First, a state court dismissed a lawsuit against the city of Chicago by the Friends of Meigs. That dismissal also removed a temporary restraining order (TRO) prohibiting the city from further damaging the airport.

As soon as that decision was issued, in a pre-planned move AOPA attorneys marched into federal court seeking a TRO in its case against the city. That suit involved violations of federal aviation regulations. But federal judge James Moran noted that the FAA had had AOPA's complaint for 53 days and had not done anything to reopen the airport, nor was it likely to. He denied issuing a TRO.

But late this evening the Illinois appellate court granted a stay on the Friends of Meigs suit, and that will protect Meigs airfield until June 4.

"We knew from the beginning that the legal actions had only a limited chance of succeeding," said AOPA President Phil Boyer, "but AOPA members across the nation have made it very clear that no measure should be spared to save this iconic airport.

"While the court losses today have dampened our legal challenges, some extraordinary positive things continue to come from our other efforts."

AOPA is still winning the "public relations" battle. The Chicago media have given great coverage to the AOPA plan, including stories in the major Chicago newspapers, all TV stations, and a long write-up in the influential business publication, Crain's Chicago Business.

"Our plan to save Meigs and help improve the city's parks is still in play if the citizens of Chicago can convince Mayor Daley to listen and embrace a sensible solution that benefits everyone," said Boyer.

"But even more importantly, AOPA and our members have sent a clear message across the nation: Our community airports are important, and we will fight to keep them," Boyer continued. "Grandstanding politicians be forewarned."

AOPA capitalized on congressional outrage over Daley's actions to lobby for legislation that would severely punish any Daley wannabe who unilaterally destroys an airport. Known informally as the "Meigs Legacy Amendment," the amendment (which is part of the FAA reauthorization bill now moving through the House) would require a 30-day advance notice to the FAA before closing an airport. And any agency that doesn't comply with that law could be fined $10,000 for each day that an airport remains closed without having given the required notice.

"In the long term, regardless of what happens to Chicago's lakefront airport, pilots will have gained substantial new tools to protect other airports," Boyer said.

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