The 370,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has complimented Chicago's ambitious plan to improve runway capacity at O'Hare International Airport but criticized the city's apparent refusal to deal with related regional airspace and airport issues that also affect delays at O'Hare.
(Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley June 29 proposed a massive redesign for the airport that would add one new runway and reconfigure five others, giving O'Hare six parallel runways.)
"We are struck by the comprehensive nature of Mayor Daley's $6 billion initiative," AOPA President Phil Boyer wrote Chicago Aviation Commissioner Thomas R. Walker. "We agree that reconfiguring existing runways and building new ones are necessary.
"However, these changes will affect the other aspects of the delay problem in Chicago—air traffic flows and airspace capacity."
Boyer noted that air traffic at O'Hare is part of a larger mix of aircraft arriving and departing 14 other airports in Chicago's airspace. For example, under certain wind conditions, O'Hare and Midway airports have to alternate departures. Traffic at O'Hare can affect landings and takeoffs at suburban Palwaukee airport.
The air traffic flow to these other regional airports has a direct relationship to capacity and delays, Boyer said.
"Our organization has attempted to raise these issues in the Chicago Delay Task Force, but your staff has summarily dismissed our concerns," Boyer told Walker. "The task force efforts are incomplete if it does not consider the impact of complex air traffic flows on airspace capacity."
(The 2001 Chicago Delay Task Force was formed in May and includes representatives from the city aviation department, the FAA, the airlines, air traffic controllers, and general aviation. The group of technical experts, including AOPA, is charged with finding short-term and long-range solutions to airline delays.)
As another example, Boyer cited the proposed closure of Meigs Field airport and the effect that will have on nearby airports. City aviation department staff absolutely refuse to allow any discussion of Meigs Field by the task force. Yet if Meigs closes, most of its 46,000 annual flights will instead go to Midway Airport, and, to a lesser extent, Palwaukee and O'Hare airports. Air traffic to those airports has a direct effect on traffic at O'Hare.
"Common sense dictates that the task force should not deal with the delay problem in a vacuum but instead should consider the impact that other regional airports have on O'Hare's traffic patterns," Boyer said.
He reminded Walker that AOPA had been invited to add its expertise to the task force, which was charged with exploring "management initiatives capable of reducing aircraft delay at O'Hare International and its surrounding airspace."
"AOPA stands ready to assist in seeking solutions to the delay and capacity problems plaguing the Chicago airspace infrastructure and offer our resources and expertise in assessing alternatives," Boyer concluded.
Based outside of Washington, D.C, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is the world's largest civil aviation organization.