AOPA reiterated its support for federal legislation that would preserve Chicago's Meigs Field airport today during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing. In testimony submitted for the record, AOPA President Phil Boyer said, "The 14 general aviation airports in the area, including Meigs Field, are part of the solution to airspace congestion in the Chicago area and the overall system.... Thanks to support from the aviation community and the leadership of Mayor Daley and Governor Ryan, Meigs Field will remain open for at least another 25 years if the governor and mayor's agreement on Chicago airports is signed into federal law."
The legislation, a revised version of Senator Richard Durbin's (D-Ill.) bill, the National Aviation Capacity Expansion Act of 2002 (S. 2039), was introduced yesterday. The new version incorporates changes to the Meigs Field language requested by AOPA that requires funding for O'Hare to be withheld by the FAA unless the administrator is satisfied that Meigs Field "is being operated by Chicago as an airport or has been closed for reasons beyond Chicago's control." The revision also removes provisions that were raising environmental objections.
The proposed legislation would expand aviation capacity in the Chicago area by expanding O'Hare International Airport, building a new airport at Peotone, and writing into law the agreement between Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and Illinois Governor George Ryan to keep Meigs Field open.
Among the witnesses at today's hearing were Illinois Governor George Ryan, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, and Samuel Skinner, president and CEO of Chicago-based U.S. Freightways Corp. and former Transportation secretary.
While much of the hearing focused on the contentious issues of O'Hare expansion and creating a new airport at Peotone, the fate of Meigs Field was mentioned throughout.
Mayor Daley stated how difficult the compromise to keep Meigs Field open was for him to make, "since it was always a dream of [his] to make that into a beautiful park."
Secretary Skinner said that as beautiful as the lakefront property is, "many of us believe that Meigs Field is equally beautiful and there is still plenty of lakefront left for us to enjoy."
Senate aviation subcommittee Chairman John "Jay" Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said at the end of the hearing that he knows "the mayor's wife was heavily in charge of the making of the parks in Chicago, so I'm sure this was an enormous compromise for the mayor."
Senate Commerce Committee Member Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.), who has been a vocal opponent of the legislation, said Congress should not be legislating this issue since "this is the most complicated technical aviation issue our country has ever faced. Congress has no business making technical decisions, since we don't have the expertise or the resources."
Other members of the Illinois delegation were invited to testify, and two members of the Indiana delegation and Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa delegation testified. Rep. Donald Manzullo (R-Ill.), who is a pilot, said he is satisfied overall with the language of the legislation. "I would rather have Congress—who is in touch with the people—resolve [this issue] than the FAA—who can sit around for 10 years without even coming to a solution."