The Death Of An Airport
X Marks The Spot...
Likely the last 16 aircraft ever to use Chicago's Meigs Field were to have taken off Wednesday, using a taxiway in place of the runway that was torn up by city workers early Monday. The FAA issued special permission to allow the aircraft owners to use the 3,000-foot, 50-foot-wide taxiway for a final departure. The 16 were left stranded by Mayor Richard Daley's surprise decision to close the airport for security reasons. By dawn on Monday, large X's had been carved out of the runway while city police blocked access to the airport. Among the 16 was Tom Komer, who flew into Meigs on Sunday for a convention at nearby McCormask Place. When Komer checked DUATS weather on Monday morning, he saw the NOTAM on the airport's closure. He telephoned the Signature FBO at Meigs to find out if the NOTAM was correct. "That's when I learned that I and 15 other pilots were stranded when Mayor Daley ordered the runway torn up ..." he told AVweb. "No one attempted to contact me prior to the damage. Later in the day, I met with the airport manager who said he didn't know in advance." Komer was told the City of Chicago would reimburse the extra hotel and living expenses he incurred.
Obviously, the forced closure of Meigs has the aviation community in an uproar and the alphabet groups are leading the charge. "We are absolutely shocked and dismayed," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Mayor Daley has no honor and his word has no value. The sneaky way he did this shows that he knows it was wrong." Ed Bolen, president of GAMA, said it was a "sad day for general aviation. Mayor Daley obviously saw an opportunity, using the ruse of security and the cover of night, to pursue his longstanding goal of closing Meigs Field." NATA President James Coyne said he was "shocked" and EAA spokesman Dick Knapinski told AVweb this action sets "a dangerous precedent." Knapinski was concerned that Daley claimed the runway was destroyed for security reasons. "It's interesting to note that Daley chose to close this airport now in the name of security, but made a deal with former Gov. Ryan to keep it open only three months after the attacks of September 11, 2001." Knapinski told AVweb all of the alphabet groups are working as a "unified voice" and have drafted a letter to President Bush and Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge. He added that legal options are "still being explored."
NOTE: Read the letter to President Bush and Mr. Ridge online, in Adobe's PDF forrmat.
...And Future Ramifications Are Examined
So where do we go from here? Will other airports follow? How could Daley get away with this? It's important to note that Meigs is a city-owned and operated airport without the benefit of federal grants, so Daley didn't have to clear this with the feds. But he is a politician and there are other politicians who have interests in this issue, so public pressure is one way to make this uncomfortable for the mayor and blow off a little steam yourself. The Friends of Meigs Field is starting a letter-writing campaign and have even put together an online form to make registering your feelings a little easier. You can always drop your congressman a line, too. But it doesn't seem likely that Daley will suddenly change his mind, based on his comments to reporters Monday. "We have done this to protect the millions of people who live, work and visit in downtown Chicago in these very uncertain times," Daley told a room packed with reporters at City Hall. "We have no control over airplanes in the air, but we can control whether we have a city airport a few seconds away from one of the heaviest concentrations of people and buildings in North America." However, Daley didn't explain why that logic wasn't used to shut down the O'Hare and Midway airports -- which also border populated areas -- nor did he explain why the runway had to be destroyed. EAA's Knapinski told AVweb that parking machinery on the runway would have sufficed, yet Daley chose to "effectively permanently close the airport" for no logical reason.