C HICAGO—AOPA President Phil Boyer joined the Chicagoland Chamber and other local business organizations to voice support for the National Aviation Capacity Expansion Act bill. The house bill, introduced by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rep. William Lipinski (D-Ill.), would codify the agreement reached last fall by Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and Illinois Governor Ryan to keep Meigs Field open until 2026, modernize O'Hare International Airport, and designate Peotone as the region's preferred site for a third major airport.
"AOPA strongly supports this legislation," said Boyer. "It ensures another quarter-century of continued operations at Meigs Field, Chicago's flagship airport."
Boyer flew into Meigs Field less than an hour before the downtown press conference. The AOPA aircraft, N4GA ("for general aviation"), was parked at the end of the south ramp, clearly visible to all the media members attending the press conference and graphically illustrating the convenience and efficiency of general aviation and Meigs Field.
"The access Meigs Field affords business travelers to the downtown area is fantastic. It's convenient, fast, and efficient. The airport is a jewel and a real asset for the city of Chicago."
"I am here representing a national organization because the Meigs issue, and the larger issue of the Chicago airline airports in the House and Senate bills are national issues," Boyer said.
"Twenty-five years ago, almost to the month, when I was the vice president and general manager of WLS-TV here in Chicago, I was standing on the ramp at Meigs Field, defending it against a closure attempt by Mayor Jane Byrne. Nothing seems to change. This 'Little Airport That Could' has withstood these pressures for its entire history.
"Wherever I go, the status of Meigs is one of the first questions I always get. This little airport is important to the nation.
"Don't be lulled into thinking that September 11 ended the need to build more runways and increase this nation's capacity at large airports like O'Hare. Airlines are returning to pre-9-11 levels faster than predicted, and more and more people are turning to general aviation, which uses airports like Meigs.
"Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta stated earlier this year that we need to add 50 miles of new runways in this country in the next 10 years to handle aviation's growth. Citizens of Chicago rightly should ask, then why tear out an almost mile of runway that serves the downtown area so admirably? Then Mineta's goal will be 51 miles of new runways," Boyer told the press conference.
Boyer acknowledged Steve Whitney and Rachel Goldstein from the Friends of Meigs, stating that this dedicated local group kept the issue of Meigs alive and before the public and the press this last six years.
One reporter said to Boyer, "The park the mayor wants to build is for everyone, but airports are for a limited few."
Boyer reminded the reporter that he had lived in Chicago, and "I never thought the city had a shortage of parks." He noted that the Park District didn't have the funds to build a new park.
"The link to the city that Meigs gives people who own personal airplanes, just like personal cars, is as vital as a interstate off-ramp," said Boyer. "And no community would think of closing its off-ramp and cutting itself off from the rest of the world."
Sen. Durbin, Rep. Lipinski, and a delegation of Chicago community leaders and businessmen also held a news conference in Washington, D.C., yesterday in support of the legislation.