The General Aviation Coalition (GAC), a group of 17 aviation organizations, is asking FAA Administrator Jane Garvey to support efforts to keep Chicago's Meigs Field airport open.
GAC Chairman Phil Boyer (who is also president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) told Garvey in a July 9 letter, "With airport capacity at a critical stage in the Chicago area, the FAA should make every effort to improve the region's aviation system. With everyone now focused on the critical need for more runways, does it make sense to close one in the city that is in the greatest need?"
While the coalition acknowledged that the FAA couldn't force Chicago to keep Meigs Field open, it asked that Garvey take every measure to ensure that the airport's future is "fairly considered."
That was a direct response to the Chicago O'Hare Delay Task Force, which is co-chaired by the FAA and city of Chicago employees. The task force is supposed to consider ways to reduce delays at O'Hare International Airport. But the task force chairs have prohibited the technical experts from looking at regional airports and airspace issues as part of the solution for managing traffic at O'Hare.
Boyer told Garvey that the task force should evaluate the air traffic impacts on airports in the Chicago region if Meigs is removed from the system. Closing Meigs would "affect air traffic with additional operations at Midway and Palwaukee airports, which share airspace with O'Hare Airport, in addition to modestly increasing general aviation operations at O'Hare," Boyer wrote.
He noted that the FAA's own master plan for improving airport and airspace capacity (National Airspace System Operational Evolution Plan) underscored the importance of secondary and reliever airports (such as Meigs Field) in reducing traffic to congestion-plagued "benchmark" hub airports.
The General Aviation Coalition said that Meigs Field, first opened in 1948 on Chicago's lakeshore, is an alternative to congested Midway and O'Hare airports for business and general aviation aircraft.
The closest airport to downtown Chicago, Meigs serves as an important air transportation access point for both airplanes and helicopters to Chicago's business district and state office building. Also, 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.
"The aviation community is working together in seeking creative solutions to the potential closure of Meigs Field, and we ask that you support alternatives that would keep the airport open," the coalition told Garvey.
Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley intends to close the airport next February and turn it into a park. Daley first announced that intention in 1994, which prompted an outpouring of support for Meigs from the aviation community and a lawsuit from the state of Illinois. The suit was settled with an agreement that the city would keep the airport open until February 2002, after which it could do whatever it wanted with the property.
The General Aviation Coalition is comprised of 17 aviation organizations that represent the majority users of the National Airspace System. General aviation aircraft constitute 91 percent of the nation's civil aircraft fleet and carry 13 percent of the nation's air passengers, mostly to airports and communities not served by the airlines.
General Aviation Coalition members include the Aircraft Electronics Association, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Experimental Aircraft Association, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Helicopter Association International, International Council of Air Shows, National Aeronautic Association, National Agricultural Aviation Association, National Air Transportation Association, National Aircraft Resale Association, National Association of State Aviation Officials, National Business Aviation Association, Professional Aviation Maintenance Association, Small Aircraft Manufacturing Association, Soaring Society of America, United States Parachute Association, and the University Aviation Association.