Senators introduce bill to ensure Meigs future
At a press conference on Capitol Hill this morning, Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and AOPA member Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), unveiled a bill to legislate the historic agreement that would continue the operation of Meigs Field for another 25 years. Illinois Governor George Ryan and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley reached the deal on Wednesday night. AOPA President Phil Boyer joined the senators at the podium. While the senators' speeches largely focused on the national benefits that will come with O'Hare expansion and moving forward on building an airport at Peotone, Senator Durbin asked Boyer to explain the benefits that will come with the continued operation of Meigs Field, which is slated to close February 2002 if not included in federal legislation.
"We must memorialize this agreement and codify it in federal legislation," Boyer said. "Meigs serves as an important 'reliever' for business and general aviation aircraft to congested Midway and O'Hare airports." Boyer stated that its closure would affect air traffic in the entire Chicago region and throughout the United States. He emphasized that reliever airports are an essential part of the overall national system and critical to reducing congestion at the major hub airports. He also added that there are five general aviation flights for every commercial flight that goes through O'Hare.
The decision to codify the agreement stems from the desire to prevent Chicago-area airports from becoming a constant political football between state and local officials. "We've been waiting 30 years for the stars and the moon to align and the governor and mayor to reach an agreement on this," said Senator Durbin. "We need to make sure that this compromise that was put together, stays together."
Representative William Lipinski (D-Ill.) is expected to offer companion legislation in the House of Representatives next week. Phil Boyer pledged to senators Durbin, Grassley, and Harkin, and to Congressman Lipinski, to put the full force of AOPA's membership behind the legislation if need be.
After the press conference, Boyer thanked Senator Durbin for his leadership on seeing the deal. "We would not be here today without Dick Durbin's leadership and that of Bill Lipinski. Chicago and GA pilots everywhere are in their debt for Meigs."
AOPA has waged a six-year battle to save Meigs. The association has participated in lawsuits, lobbied both the Illinois legislature and Congress, produced television commercials and newspaper ads to gain legislative and public support for the airport, and mounted an extensive behind-the-scenes effort.
December 7, 2001