Legislation that will codify Illinois Governor George Ryan and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's agreement to preserve Chicago's flagship GA airport Meigs Field for another 25 years is headed to the Senate floor. The bill, which passed out of the Senate Commerce Committee Thursday morning, will also expand O'Hare International and expedite the creation of a new airport at Peotone, south of Chicago.
The Meigs Field provisions in the bill never even came up for discussion during today's session, which focused instead on the expansion at O'Hare.
"This is good news for the general aviation community," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Hopefully the Senate leadership will bring this legislation to the floor soon so this much-needed legislation will be passed."
AOPA Legislative Affairs staff attended today's hearing and report that the Senate version of the National Aviation Capacity Expansion Act (S.2039), introduced by Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), was expected to face stiff opposition from Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.), who is concerned about the noise and environmental impact of an O'Hare expansion. "I think the Senate is coming into a civil war and is taking the wrong side," said Fitzgerald. He said this bill effectively kills the creation of an airport at Peotone by expanding O'Hare and reducing the demand for another major airport. Fitzgerald also said that Mayor Daley "wants to keep all state aviation in his political jurisdiction."
Of the 12 amendments Sen. Fitzgerald submitted to the committee on O'Hare expansion, only three were passed, including one that was modified by Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.). Sen. Fitzgerald is expected to offer more amendments when the bill is debated on the Senate floor. A number of Sen. Fitzgerald's other concerns on environmental issues were addressed in another amendment offered by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) and Senate aviation subcommittee Chairman John J. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.). And Senator Byron Dorgan's (D-N.D.) amendment on the property rights of any airport user at Chicago O'Hare was also adopted.
At the hearing, Senator Rockefeller said Governor Ryan and Mayor Daley "came together in the interest of not only Chicago and Illinois, but the entire nation." Sen. McCain said this is an important piece of legislation and that "this plan may have some problems in it, but I believe we should move forward with it." Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) said, "When a governor and mayor come together, I think we should support the basic concept." Sen. Hutchison also said that when the bill does go to the Senate floor, she will offer her bill (S.633), which would make it possible for other airport expansion projects to undergo an expedited review process, as an amendment.