Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley’s unexpected announcement earlier this week that he will not seek re-election may have opened the door for the return of something Daley stole from America’s national aviation transportation system: Meigs Field.
“More than seven years have passed since Chicago’s Meigs Field was bulldozed under cover of darkness, but the airport has not been forgotten,” said Craig Fuller, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). “Grassroots support for Meigs is still alive, and many in the aviation community view Mayor Daley’s decision not to run for re-election as a hopeful sign that the field could be restored.
“It would be premature for me to say that Meigs will be reopened,” Fuller continued, “but I can make this commitment on behalf of all those who have fought, and continue to fight: AOPA will fully investigate any opportunity to bring Meigs Field back.”
In the wee hours of March 30, 2003, Daley ordered heavy construction equipment to dig up the runway at Meigs Field, located along the Lake Michigan shoreline, effectively closing the airport and stranding more than a dozen aircraft. He could get away with it because technically the airport belonged to the Chicago Parks District, a separate government entity, and because in an earlier era the FAA had weakened its own enforcement options by tieing grant obligations to the airport’s lease rather than to a fixed calendar date. Since that earlier era, the FAA has become more vigorous and stringent in its airport grant obligation enforcement and Congress has made it much more difficult and costly for anyone else to “pull a Daley.” Yet Meigs remains closed. But not forgotten.
Grassroots organizations such as the Friends of Meigs are still active and still agitating for the airport’s reconstruction and reopening. A number of prominent Chicago politicians, including some whose names are being floated as potential successors to Daley, have in the past said they support reopening Meigs Field.
“Reopening Meigs Field, with its easy access to Chicago’s Loop, would allow businesses in The City That Works – as Mayor Daley’s father liked to refer to Chicago – to work even more efficiently,” said Fuller. “AOPA fought hard first to prevent the closure of Meigs Field and then to pressure the mayor to reopen it. With new leadership coming to Chicago, we will work just as diligently to explore every opportunity that may bring Meigs back.”