Meigs Destruction Stopped
But The Battle Rages On...
A poll done by Chicago media shows locals believe the destruction of Meigs will hurt the area economy, and some pilot groups intend to make sure of it. Since Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley doesn't seem to play by the same book as everyone else, rushing (de)construction vehicles to Meigs in the middle of an otherwise serene Sunday night to rip up the runway, AOPA is responding via some guerilla tactics of its own. The group has thrown its muscle behind a boycott of Chicago by pilots, business and anyone else who cares about the unprecedented situation. "AOPA will bring all possible pressure to bear on Mayor Daley," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Pilots are letting Daley know that his destruction of this valuable airport has consequences." Several members have cancelled or scaled down business appointments in the Windy City and an English member rebooked his flight to San Diego to avoid a stopover at O'Hare. As for the locals, the poll showed a total of 63 percent believe fewer business visitors will come to Chicago and 59 percent believe the closure will harm Chicago's reputation as a business center. Only 3 percent think business will improve. Only 10 percent bought Daley's security justification for the move and 40 percent thought it would actually increase the danger to downtown Chicago. While the man on the street is clearly opposed to the action, business groups aren't generally willing to stick their necks out. CEO of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Jerry Roper, did throw his support behind Daley, saying the closure will protect the city. He also downplayed the economic impact of a permanent closure because "a very small percentage of our visitors use it."
...Controllers Worry About O'Hare Congestion...
While some pilots go after the economic jugular, there's another potential impact that could play out sooner rather than later thanks to a precipitously timed FAA decision this week. A few days after the runway destruction, the FAA ruled that GA aircraft and dozens of airlines will no longer be able to participate in the Land and Hold Short (LAHSO) program at O'Hare. With the closure of Meigs, more GA traffic will inevitably be looking for slots at O'Hare and that could further complicate matters. "This will certainly result in an increase in delays ..." said National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) spokesman Ray Gibbons. NATCA claims the new rule will reduce the number of arrivals and departures at the world's busiest airport by 10 percent. LAHSO allows air traffic controllers to tell pilots of landing aircraft to stop before reaching intersections with crossing runways and so allow arrivals and departures simultaneously on all runways. The FAA decision also burdens controllers with the task of determining which aircraft they can order to stop and hold short on the runway. Only American carriers with waivers on file at the FAA can be so instructed. According to NATCA's calculations, that leaves 41 airlines (plus GA traffic) using O'Hare that controllers must issue different instructions to. "Because our arrivals come from five different directions, we end up crisscrossing them all over the sky using altitude for separation," said Gibbons.
...Court Order Prevents Further Damage
Well, at least Richard Daley can't do any more damage at Meigs Field ... for now. A Cook County, Ill., judge has granted a temporary restraining order blocking any further destruction of airport facilities until a May 16 hearing on a permanent injunction. The order, by Judge William Maki, specifically orders the city of Chicago to preserve the taxiway and terminal building, as well as other components of the lakefront facility. The Friends of Meigs has launched a suit against the city claiming the runway destruction violated state law by altering a runway without Illinois Department of Transportation approval. AOPA is demanding that federal funds be cut off to Chicago's major airports, O'Hare and Midway, until Meigs is reopened. An AOPA complaint to the FAA claims the city violated federal regulations by not giving the minimum 30 days' notice for closing an airport. The restraining order came four days after heavy equipment, on Mayor Daley's order, carved large Xs out of the airport's only runway, closing it and stranding 16 airplanes. The aircraft were allowed to take off on an adjacent taxiway on Wednesday. The restraining order blinked a ray of hope into aviation groups and the Friends of Meigs, which has been battling for years to preserve the field. A coalition of aviation groups wrote President Bush earlier this week to protest the closure and a legal defense fund has also been established. The city plans to fight the restraining order ... and everyone else.