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Controllers Condemn Daley's Midnight Madness; NATCA Joins FAA, Users in Blasting Chicago Mayor's Meigs Policy - (3/31/2003)

CHICAGO – Air traffic controllers blasted Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s unannounced forced closure of downtown lakefront Meigs Field under cloak of darkness Sunday night, assailing the stealth maneuver as a major step backwards for Chicago aviation and warning of a domino effect on traffic at neighboring airports.

“Mayor Daley bulldozed his way into aviation history this morning by destroying a national treasure and potentially causing unsafe flying conditions for the greater Chicagoland airspace,” NATCA President John Carr said. “This reminds me of the Colts sneaking out of Baltimore by dead of night. Clearly, the mayor didn’t think his policy choices could either figuratively or literally withstand the light of day. It’s the epitome of arrogance.”

Chicago media are reporting today that before midnight on Sunday, workers with construction equipment arrived at Meigs escorted by Chicago police and carved out large, X-shaped portions of concrete out of the center of the runway. Sixteen aircraft appeared stranded. Sources said under terms of a deal with then-Illinois Governor George Ryan in December 2001, Mayor Daley agreed to keep Meigs open until 2026.

“Mayor Daley has managed to do what terrorists couldn’t -- he permanently shut down an airport in the great city of Chicago,” Carr said. “It’s just outrageous.”

The monthly average air traffic volume at Meigs in 2002 was 1,564 instrument flight rules operations, meaning flights where pilots were in contact with air traffic control. But Meigs routinely became a much busier airport during events at the nearby McCormick Place convention center. In fact, last September, the airport handled 2,273 IFR operations.

“The problem with Meigs closing is those 1,500 operations are going to have to go somewhere else,” remarked Ray Gibbons, president of the local NATCA chapter at Chicago Terminal Radar Approach Control. “O’Hare and Midway airports are already operating above capacity. In fact, we are working more aircraft than we were before Sept. 11, 2001. Meigs’ closure adds complex and higher volumes of traffic to this area’s overburdened, understaffed facilities and sooner or later that understaffing will reach critical mass. At some point in time, the safety of the flying public will be compromised.”


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