Whether He Ever Admits It Or Not
The following is the
statement from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association regarding
Monday's settlement agreement between the Federal Aviation
Administration and the city of Chicago, over the 2003 destruction
of Meigs Field over what Mayor Richard Daley called an immediate
"security threat." -- Ed.
Chicago will pay a $33,000 fine for illegally tearing up Meigs
Field airport without proper notification. And the city will have
to repay $1 million of airport funds that Mayor Richard M. Daley
illegally diverted from O'Hare and Midway airports to give to the
And with the more than $550,000 the city has already spent
attempting to fight the fine and repayment, hapless Chicago
taxpayers are out close to $1.6 million, and they've lost a
The FAA announced the final settlement with the city Monday. The
city admitted no wrongdoing.
"But this $1 million payment and $33,000 fine sends a clear
signal to other cities that the FAA is serious about upholding its
regulations and that AOPA is serious about holding everyone's feet
to the fire when it comes to protecting airports," said AOPA
President Phil Boyer. AOPA filed the original complaints that
resulted in the fine and fund repayment.
"Many of us always thought that the civil penalty of $1,100 per
day was 'chump change' to a city with the budget of Chicago," said
Boyer. "But whether he admits it or not, it shows that Daley
violated FAA regulations and could have put aircraft at risk."
And for the future, it won't be chump change. That's because
after Meigs, AOPA successfully lobbied Congress to increase the
fine to $10,000 per day, to make it much more painful for another
city to attempt a midnight airport raid. Notice of the proposed
closure must also be published in the Federal Register, so it can't
be done in the dark of night again.
The fine was because the city didn't provide the FAA with proper
notice that it was closing the airport. The regulations required 30
days' notice, unless it were an emergency.
Daley claimed it was, because the little lakeside airport was an
immediate 'security threat' to Chicago. The FAA, along with the
citizens of Chicago, saw right through that bogus claim.
The $1 million repayment must be made from the city's general
revenue, not airport funds. The FAA agreed with AOPA that Chicago
had illegally diverted airport revenue dedicated to airport
improvements for airport destruction.
"One million dollars won't break Daley's budget," said Boyer,
"but it is a significant number, particularly coupled with the more
than half-a-million dollars in city legal fees.
"Diverting airport revenue for non-airport purposes is a serious
breach of the contract between the city and the federal government
and, ultimately, the taxpayers," said Boyer. "The taxpayers have
paid this money to build a national airport system, and this slap
down of Chicago shows that we take that contract seriously."
Boyer had strong praise for the FAA for taking this principled,
and politically difficult, stand against a powerful city and
"While AOPA is often on the other side of the fence relative to
many FAA issues, their airports division has truly shown a backbone
in recent years," Boyer said. "They have stood firm in enforcing
the terms of the federal grant process that has given our nation
the best network of both commercial service and general aviation
airports in the world."
Mayor Daley had tried
to close Meigs Field for years to turn it into city park No. 552.
AOPA had successfully lobbied the Illinois legislature and brokered
a number of deals that held off Daley for at least five years.
Then, under the cover of darkness on March 30, 2003, Daley
ordered heavy equipment through the airport fence to carve huge
trenches in the runway. The city even blinded a Web camera aimed at
the airport so the world couldn't see what was happening.
That's what led to the fine and repayment announced Monday.
And while it cost the nation an airport, it also led to AOPA's
creation of the Airport Support Network to protect other airports
and AOPA lobbying for the "Meigs Legacy" amendment, which increased
substantially the penalties against any future mayor or airport
sponsor that might be tempted to "pull a Daley."
The more-than-408,000 members of AOPA make up the world's
largest civil aviation association. AOPA is committed to ensuring
the continued viability, growth, and development of aviation and
airports in the United States. These airports are a vital and
critical component of a national transportation system.