Congress may step in to save Chicago's Meigs Field airport, thanks to AOPA's legislative efforts. Following a series of meetings with AOPA, Illinois Senator Peter Fitzgerald has added an amendment to the Department of Transportation fiscal year 2002 appropriations bill requiring that reliever and general aviation airports like Meigs be part of a plan to solve congestion at O'Hare International Airport.
The amendment was added to a section of the transportation bill (S.1178) that "encourages" Chicago and Illinois to jointly develop a plan for O'Hare and a new, third commercial service airport, and threatens federal intervention if the city and state don't develop a satisfactory solution to area airport congestion problems.
"This amendment is a positive development for air travelers nationwide, frustrated by the delays caused by O'Hare International Airport," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "With airport capacity at a critical stage in the Chicago area, it makes absolutely no sense to close a reliever airport that can help reduce congestion at Chicago's primary airports."
Closing Meigs would add some 48,000 flights per year to the next closest airports to downtown Chicago—Midway and O'Hare.
Recognizing that, Sen. Fitzgerald's amendment (co-sponsored by Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe and supported by Illinois Senator Richard Durbin) requires that the plan for modernizing O'Hare airport must also preserve and utilize "existing Chicago-area reliever and general aviation airports."
Area airports that can provide relief for both O'Hare and Midway include Meigs Field, Aurora Municipal, Lansing Municipal, Lewis University, Waukegan Regional, DuPage, Palwaukee, Frankfort, Galt, Dacy, Joliet Park District, Sanger, Clow, Campbell, and Schaumburg. These reliever and general aviation airports provide alternatives for the increasing number of non-airline aircraft transporting passengers to the Chicago area.
In a series of meetings and exchanges with Sen. Fitzgerald and his staff, AOPA Senior Vice President of Legislative Affairs Bill Deere helped craft the amendment language protecting Meigs airport. AOPA President Phil Boyer sent letters to key Senate members, urging support for the amendment.
Meanwhile, Illinois Governor George Ryan announced July 24 that he will present an alternative to Chicago's current O'Hare plans, which includes extending the life of Meigs Field.
Meigs is slated to close in February 2002, to be replaced by another lakefront park. The closest airport to Chicago's business district and Illinois state office buildings, Meigs is the preferred alternative for business and general aviation aircraft. The airport's unique lakefront location allows aircraft to arrive and depart safely over Lake Michigan, thus reducing aircraft noise over inhabited areas.
"Closure of this airport is like closing a viable off-ramp from a congested highway system," said Boyer. "We should be doing everything we can to develop more airport capacity in the Chicago area."
The 370,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is the world's largest civil aviation organization. More than 58 percent of the nation's pilots are AOPA members.