Meigs Goes To Washington


Cause, Effect Dominates FAA Hearing…

They were supposed to be talking about the FAA Reauthorization Bill, but last Wednesday one after another of aviation’s bigwigs reminded Congress’s aviation subcommittee about the destruction of Chicago’s Meigs field. Speakers reminded the committee that aviation services are a federal matter and the intrusion of local special interests could result in inconsistent regulations and service availability based on regional political biases. “Our national air transportation system is far too important to the United States to allow powerful private enterprises to use their political clout to create an unjustified, ad hoc patchwork of airspace restrictions,” said Ed Bolen, president of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association. Jack Olcott, president of the National Business Aviation Association, said airspace restrictions must be imposed based on a credible threat and not on the security fears of local jurisdictions. “A temporary flight restriction (TFR) seems to be the tool of choice for some mayors and governors trying to address constituent concerns about security,” Olcott said. He also told the committee that the TFR Chicago Mayor Richard Daley practically begged authorities to impose over his city played a role in his subsequent decision to destroy the airport runway and he’s afraid other mayors might be watching. “This abominable example of a mayor usurping federal authority in the name of homeland security has become a consideration, albeit to a lesser degree so far, across the country.”

…Direct Intervention Sought…

AOPA’s Phil Boyer, who has been among the most prominent pro-Meigs combatants, asked for the committee’s direct intervention. He even showed video of Daley shaking hands on a deal to preserve the airport and promising that he wouldn’t use the Chicago TFR as justification to close the field. Boyer said AOPA is using every legislative and legal means at its disposal to restore the airport, adding, “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 Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.” National Air Transportation Association President James K. Coyne directly requested congressional condemnation of Daley for his actions. Coyne added that “In the aftermath of Meigs’ closure, any community with the merest whim to close their local airport can do so and point to Chicago as their justification.” There are two sides to every story, however, and Daley had a defender in the committee hearings. AOPA reported that Rep. William Lipinski (D-Ill.), who sponsored the bill to save Meigs as part of a larger legislative package to expand O’Hare International, said Daley had every legal right to close the airport … and in the manner he saw fit.

…There Are Others, Too

And while the Meigs closure is freshest in everyone’s minds, NATA’s Coyne reminded the committee of another airport that is out of bounds for most aircraft. Coyne called on the committee to help restore access to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport by non-scheduled carriers. The federal government initially closed DCA entirely after 9/11 but opened it to airlines, under special security regulations, shortly thereafter. Coyne said Part 135 operators are willing to meet those restrictions and want back into DCA. The aviation leaders also talked about financial relief to aviation businesses, airport privatization and funding. NBAA’s Olcott told the committee that the FAA must remain focused on modernization of the air traffic control system. Several modernization initiatives are over budget and woefully behind schedule but Olcott said more money must be spent faster to implement these technologies. Oh, and the original reason for the hearing? The groups all agreed that the FAA Reauthorization Bill should be passed.