AOPA members are still plenty impassioned about the unwarranted (but unfortunately, legal) destruction of Chicago's lakeside Meigs Field.
"Well done on Meigs field," wrote a member. "A bully's action has been corrected."
But a member from Ohio said, "The 33,000 fine is chump change! If one airplane had crashed it would have cost more than $33,000. This fine is an embarrassment. They should have forced them to reinstate the airport!"
He certainly wasn't alone in that opinion. Asked one member, "If it was illegal for Mayor Daley to tear up Meigs, why is he not required to repair the field to the status quo ante?" Another was much stronger: "AOPA, I do not think this sends a strong signal at all. The mayor should be in prison or removed from office."
This bears explaining again. Technically, it was legal for Daley to close the airport. It had become private property, because Chicago had waited for the federal airport grants to expire. The contract to maintain the airport as an airport was no longer in effect. Chicago (more accurately, the Chicago Parks District) owned the land and could do whatever it wanted with it, just like any private landowner.
Where Daley violated the law was in the way he closed the airport and the money he used to do it. Even if an airport is privately owned, if it has a public instrument approach, you have to tell the FAA in advance before you close it. Daley didn't, hence the fine.
He also used federally controlled airport funds for nonairport purposes - tearing up the runway. So that money has to be repaid.
If it's any consolation, mayoral candidates opposing Daley in the upcoming election are making his misuse of public funds and destruction of Meigs Field an issue in the campaign.
AOPA and most of our members agree: The fine wasn't enough. But here's how one member put it all in perspective:
"I am sure that AOPA did not single-handedly force Chicago or the FAA into this agreement, but I do believe that without the pressure AOPA brought to bear there might not have been a final, stiffer penalty assessed.
"And I also know that without large membership numbers AOPA would have been unable to bring that pressure to bear.
"Although not yet due, I have been slow to pay my AOPA renewal. But this short article finally got me to realize that there are reasons to maintain my membership that go beyond any of the direct-to-me benefits that are always touted.
"My membership will add to AOPA's numbers (which gives it a bigger stick to carry). My dues serve as a 'vote' in support of the stand that AOPA will take against other actions that could erode the aviation way of life I enjoy in this country. In short, my membership makes AOPA's voice louder. And that, for me, is the most valid reason to belong.
"AOPA is a mature organization - big budget, lots of staff, Washington, D.C., presence, and a nationally recognized voice - and it is easy to feel outside their colossal apparatus, even as a member.
"But when that apparatus is used to right a wrong, or prevent an injury, to something I personally love, then by extension, I have helped in a very personal way.
"AOPA needs my membership - everyone's membership - to maintain its clout. I think you should consider using that simple argument from time to time. Oh, by the way, I sent off my membership check today. Again, thank you."
"No, thank YOU, and all our 408,000-plus members who make it possible for your AOPA staff to continue fighting the good fight on behalf of general aviation," said AOPA President Phil Boyer.
September 27, 2006