William L. Blake
Great Lakes Regional Representative
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association
Public Meeting Held by
The Honorable George H. Ryan
Aviation Capacity and Congestion Issues in the Chicago Area
And the Plan for Chicago Area Aviation Growth
August 27, 2001
Tinley Park, Illinois
My name is Bill Blake, and I am the Great Lakes regional representative for Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and former aeronautics director for the state. AOPA represents over 375,000 members nationwide, including over 13,000 members in the state of Illinois. More than half of all pilots in the United States are members of AOPA, making it the world's largest pilot organization.
AOPA is pleased to have the opportunity to comment on capacity and congestion in the Chicago area and the plan for future growth. We applaud your leadership in conducting the series of public meetings and offer the following comments as you and your staff develop your plan. Your actions have national implications that affect the country's vital air transportation system.
AOPA has argued for regional solutions as the city of Chicago area faces an unprecedented demand for air transportation. We believe it is essential that planning must incorporate the 14 airports providing important general aviation access in the Chicago area, including Meigs Field, as part of the solution to congestion problems at Chicago O'Hare and Midway airports.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) National Airspace System Operational Evolution Plan underscores the importance of secondary and reliever airports in managing traffic in the vicinity of benchmark hub airports such as Chicago O'Hare International Airport. The FAA plan, developed in concert with airlines, airports, pilots, and other major stakeholders, emphasizes that communities must address the needs of these other airports in a region to achieve greater capacity at a benchmark airport.
As a member of the O'Hare Delay Task Force, AOPA is helping to identify solutions to congestion since we believe any changes at O'Hare will affect aircraft flying throughout the entire region. The task force is scheduled to deliver its recommendations within six months. We see an important part of the regional solution is improving capacity, not reducing it. Keeping Meigs Field open is an important component of this system.
Removing Meigs from the airport system would increase operations at Midway and Palwaukee airports, which share airspace with O'Hare. That would impact air traffic flow at O'Hare. In addition, closing Meigs would modestly increase the number of general aviation operations at O'Hare itself.
According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, without Meigs Field, flight delays at Midway Airport would increase to slightly over 12 minutes in 2003. However, with Meigs continuing to operate, delays at Midway would be just under 6 minutes. Even more critical is the impact of Meigs closure on the future with delay impacts on Midway approaching the FAA's critical delay criteria of 15 minutes in 2011. Clearly, closing Meigs Field is not good for Midway Airport.
AOPA strongly agrees with your statement made earlier this summer that Meigs Field should be a part of the plan for Chicago area aviation growth. Our membership feels so strongly about keeping this essential link in the air transportation system open that in May we launched a television commercial campaign, "Meigs Field: A Valuable Resource. Isn't It Worth Saving?" This commercial, coupled with an intensive educational effort in Springfield, put this important issue back in the forefront for many in the state.
Opened in 1948, Merrill C. Meigs Field is an important airport located on the beautiful lakefront that is a showcase for the city. The airport serves as an important air transportation access point for both airplanes and helicopters to Chicago's business district and state office building. Its close proximity saves over an hour for those conducting business in "the Loop"—closing it would be equivalent to eliminating a perfectly good off-ramp from the interstate highway system. In addition, because of the airport's unique lakefront location, aircraft can safely arrive and depart over Lake Michigan, not the city itself, and the noise footprint is over water, not over inhabited areas.
Mayor Daley wants to remove this important transportation asset from the aviation system and turn the airport property into a park. At a time when the nation has set a goal of adding 50 miles of runways at airports to increase capacity and reduce delays and congestion, the importance of each airport in the Chicago area is critical. Meigs should remain open.
We urge you to include it as a part of your plan for the Chicago-area aviation system.