The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is telling Congress that cities proposing to close needed reliever airports should lose federal funding for their other airports.
In testimony presented today to a Senate field hearing on "Congestion in Chicago Airspace," AOPA President Phil Boyer said, "We ask that the Senate Commerce Committee consider adding, as part of the legislation it's developing to reduce airline delays, a provision giving the secretary of Transportation authority to withhold funds to states or airport sponsors in locations surrounding our most congested airports where a reliever airport is proposed for closure."
AOPA acknowledged that federal intervention into what had previously been considered a local issue would have national ramifications.
"However, at this time when runway and airport capacities are such precious commodities, we believe reliever airports should be used to their full potential," Boyer said.
The Senate Commerce Committee conducted a field hearing in Chicago to look for solutions to the airline delay problems plaguing O'Hare International Airport.
AOPA told the committee that the 14 airports providing general aviation access to the Chicago area, including Meigs Field, were part of the solution to congestion problems at both O'Hare and Midway airports. The FAA's recently released "Operational Evolution Plan" for increasing capacity nationwide underscored the importance of reliever airports in managing traffic at the major hub airports.
"However, an important part of the Chicago airport system is in jeopardy," Boyer said.
He reminded the committee that Chicago Mayor Richard Daley intends to close Meigs Field, an FAA-designated reliever airport to both O'Hare International and Midway airports, next February and convert the land into park.
"At a time when the nation's attention is turned to airport capacity problems, especially in Chicago, a reliever airport such as Meigs should not be closed," Boyer said.
The lakeside airport is the closest landing facility to downtown Chicago. It provides an important air transportation access point for both airplanes and helicopters to Chicago's business district and state office buildings. The close-in location saves over an hour for those conducting business in "the Loop." That encourages business aircraft to use Meigs, thereby relieving some congestion at the next closest airports—O'Hare and Midway.
Boyer said that AOPA members felt so strongly about keeping Meigs open that the association had launched a television commercial campaign, "Meigs Field: A Valuable Resource. Isn't It Worth Saving?" AOPA gave a copy of the commercial to every member of the Commerce Committee. (The Meigs commercial can be viewed online.)
"AOPA is committed to seeking a solution that maintains Meigs Field as an airport and meets Mayor Daley's interest in additional parks on the city's lakefront," Boyer said.
The 370,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is the world's largest civil aviation organization. More than 57 percent of the nation's pilots are AOPA members, as are some 13,000 Illinois pilots.