The hearing was supposed to be about the FAA reauthorization bill, but AOPA President Phil Boyer used the forum to urge members of Congress to step in and deal with the destruction of Chicago's Merrill C. Meigs Field. He told the members of the House aviation subcommittee that AOPA would use every legislative and legal means available to reopen the airport.
In an audiovisual presentation, Boyer used video clips to emphasize the value of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley's word, showing the mayor shaking hands with then-Illinois Governor George Ryan on a deal to save Meigs and of Daley saying just nine days before the closure that claims of homeland security issues would not be used to shut the airport down.
Boyer said the closure has stirred up AOPA's membership like nothing in recent memory. "We have received a higher volume of e-mails and phone calls about Meigs than about the closure of the entire National Airspace System in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks," he told them.
Rep. William Lipinski (D-Ill.), who sponsored legislation to save Meigs as part of a larger Chicago airports bill, defended Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley's actions, saying that the mayor had every legal right to close the airport in the manner he saw fit. Reading from a prepared statement, Lipinski outlined the reasons for Daley's decision and said that he supports the decision.
Boyer expressed chagrin at the sudden, peremptory end to a decade-long battle that was hard-fought on both sides. "The middle-of-the-night destruction exacerbated the situation," Boyer told Lipinski.
While Meigs took up a sizable portion of the hearing, Boyer and three other GA industry leaders, James Coyne of the National Air Transportation Association, Ed Bolen of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, and John Olcott of the National Business Aviation Association, told the members about the vital role general aviation plays in the national aviation system and the national economy, and about the difficulties GA faces from continual security constraints.
For their part, the committee members showed a great deal of knowledge and sensitivity to general aviation. Rep. Thomas Petri (R-Wis.) called GA "absolutely vital" even for "commercial aviation" because it underpins the whole system.
Members also showed an appreciation of the misunderstandings about what general aviation is and what it does. "We need to do a better job helping the general public know how important general aviation is to our economy," said John Duncan (R-Tenn.). Rep. Bill Shuster went one step further. "Members of Congress don't understand the importance of general aviation to the nation and to their districts," he said.
"I was very impressed with the knowledge of the subcommittee members," said Boyer.
Read Boyer's written testimony to the House aviation subcommittee.