Opened in 1948, Chicago's Merrill C. Meigs Field is an important reliever airport located on the beautiful lakefront that is a showcase for the city. Aircraft safely arrive and depart over Lake Michigan, not the city itself, and the noise footprint is over water, not over inhabited areas. In 1994 Mayor Daley announced that Meigs would be closed and turned into a park. AOPA and other organizations in the aviation community mobilized to preserve the gem called Meigs Field.
The airport actually closed for a brief period of time at the end of 1996. During this period, AOPA filed suit in federal court and the state of Illinois filed suite in state court seeking the reopening of the airport. At the same time, the Illinois Legislature introduced legislation to wrangle control of the airport from the city of Chicago to the state. AOPA provided a dramatic color photo of Meigs Field complete with yellow "Xs" on the runway and the city skyline as a backdrop to every state legislator. The package included a personal plea from AOPA President Phil Boyer asking the state to acquire the airport from the city. Ultimately, the state's suit was settled, and the city agreed to leave Meigs open until February 2002. After that, the city is free to take whatever action it deems appropriate, including leaving the airport open. With this agreement in place, the legislature dropped their effort to seize the airport as state property.
Meigs Field serves as an important air transportation access point to Chicago's business district and state office building. The 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.
Meigs Field provides relief for other Chicago-area airports, particularly Midway and O'Hare airports, by serving as an alternative for business and general aviation aircraft. With the current emphasis on capacity problems in the Chicago area, it is good policy to keep this valuable airport open.
Pressure is building for doing something about capacity in Chicago as illustrated in a recent Chicago Sun-Times/WBBM-Channel 2 survey in which 90 percent of local residents polled say something has to be done about airport delays. An editorial by the Chicago Sun Times published on May 16, 2001, made a strong case for leaving Meigs open as part of an overall plan to increase capacity. The city of Chicago recently announced its plans for a capacity task force. AOPA has been invited to participate as a member.
Keeping Meigs Field open is good public policy nationally and locally. In a recent independent survey, a majority of Chicago residents were in favor of keeping Meigs Field open.
Although no specific state or federal action is currently taking place, members of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association have reenergized efforts in educating and sensitizing the Illinois Legislature about the airport. We feel so strongly about keeping this essential link in the air transportation system open that AOPA launched a television commercial campaign, "Meigs Field: A Valuable Resource. Isn't It Worth Saving?" that began May 21. The campaign is intended to raise the level of awareness with state legislators.
When Mayor Daley first announced his plan to close Meigs Field in 1994, AOPA was there fighting for Meigs. We've been there all along and will continue to lend our support to local pilots, legislators, and city officials in seeking a resolution that ensures the continued existence of Chicago's Meigs Field.