January 25, 2001


New transportation secretary says he will 'wrestle with' Chicago's need for third airport

Thursday, January 25, 2001

By Kristen McQueary
Politics Writer

The man who will oversee developments at the federal level with Chicago's airports spoke publicly yet cautiously for the first time Wednesday about the need for a third airport.

Norman Mineta, a former Democratic California congressman whom the Senate confirmed Wednesday as transportation secretary, said air capacity problems in Chicago are something he would "have to wrestle with."

Under questioning from U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.) before the confirmation, Mineta said no one has answers yet as to whether Chicago needs an additional runway at O'Hare or a third airport.

"It's (something) I'm going to get into very quickly, and it's (something) that you and others are going to be involved in, and I'm going to be working with all of you on that," Mineta said.

Later, Fitzgerald said Mineta "held his cards close to his vest," which was not unusual since he was "interviewing" with senators.

"I would have preferred that he would have enthusiastically endorsed a third airport, although, typically, at most of these confirmation hearings, the nominees for cabinet positions are very cautious and measured," Fitzgerald said.

Mineta served on the House aviation subcommittee as a member of Congress for much of the 1980s and early '90s. He is familiar with Chicago's airport situation and has an "encyclopedic" knowledge of transportation issues, Fitzgerald said.

"He told me he remembered having discussions with (former Gov. Jim Thompson) in the '80s about adding runways at O'Hare, so he has a lot of experience with aviation issues, and specifically in Chicago," he said.

The biggest obstacle now for a south suburban airport are the industry power brokers United and American airlines, which have opposed any move to develop a third airport. Together, they handle more than 80 percent of O'Hare's air traffic and wouldn't want to see that threatened.

"If there was added capacity at O'Hare, presumably they'd carve it out themselves because they have such dominant positions there. They will be working hard to thwart a third airport, so it's up to (the Illinois delegation) to make a persuasive case," Fitzgerald said.

[Chicago ATC News]