Acting on an AOPA complaint, the FAA announced late Friday afternoon that it is proposing to fine the city of Chicago $33,000 - the maximum allowed by law - for the illegal destruction of Meigs Field airport.
The FAA has also begun an investigation into the possible diversion of some $1.5 million in federal airport funds that the city may have used to pay contractors to rip up the runway in the dead of night a year and a half ago.
"This is bittersweet," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "As much as we relish sticking it to Mayor Daley, we still would rather have the airport."
AOPA filed the formal complaint alleging that Daley and the city of Chicago violated both the U.S. Code and Federal Aviation Regulations by not providing proper notice before closing Meigs Field. The FAA concurred, saying the city was required to provide 30 days notice before deactivating the airport.
Federal regulations allow the FAA to assess a maximum penalty of $1,100 per day for this type of violation. The FAA plans to hit Chicago with the maximum.
Even more significantly, the FAA's investigation of AOPA's complaint led it to suspect the city may have improperly diverted $1.5 million in federal airport funds to pay a contractor to destroy Meigs Field. The FAA is investigating that and has given the city 30 days to respond. The city could be required to return that money to the O'Hare Airport development fund. If it doesn't, it could face a penalty of up to $4.5 million.
"FAA's action today sends a strong message to anyone who wants to close an airport," said Boyer. "You cannot unilaterally change the National Airspace System."
AOPA fought a nearly decade-long battle to save Meigs Field airport, spending nearly half a million dollars in the last year alone, in response to member opinion.
And while the fight was ultimately lost, the association still considers it well worth it. What came out of the effort today is being applied to save airports everywhere.
Out of the Meigs effort, for example, have come such innovations as the AOPA Airport Support Network and a federal law, the "Meigs Legacy" provision, which imposes hefty fines on anyone who closes an airport without the proper notice to the FAA. (See " Meigs one year later.")
October 1, 2004