May 22, 2001

Phil Kadner

Fitzgerald says Daley can't support Peotone

Tuesday, May 22, 2001

U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.) said Monday that there can't be a negotiated agreement between the city of Chicago and the state over a new Peotone airport because Mayor Richard M. Daley has promised in writing to oppose a third airport.

"I saw the contract (with Southwest Airlines)," Fitzgerald said. "The city is legally obligated to oppose any new airport within 50 miles of the city until 2012.

"This is in a written contract with Southwest. So the mayor can't negotiate to trade new runways at O'Hare for a new airport in Peotone."

Southwest Airlines demanded the contract language in exchange for a long-term commitment to remain at Midway Airport.

A long-time aviation insider, however, disputed Fitzgerald's interpretation of the contract.

"It is written in legalese to give the mayor some wiggle room," he said. "It precludes the mayor from advocating for a new airport if it would have an adverse economic impact on existing airlines.

"If there is to be a negotiation, you can be sure the airlines will be involved and sign off on the deal."

On Sunday, U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said he supports building new runways at O'Hare to solve Chicago's aviation crisis.

Fitzgerald said he disagreed with Durbin and listed five questions that need to be answered.

"One, how long will it (O'Hare expansion) take?" Fitzgerald asked.

"Two, how much new capacity if any will it have?"

"Three, how much will it cost?"

"Four, is it cost effective?"

"Five, how will the city avoid excruciating delays during O'Hare airport construction?"

Fitzgerald said there are new air carriers that would come to Chicago if a new airfield was built.

"George Soros (a billionaire entrepreneur) is launching a start-up airline called Jet Blue, and he told me he couldn't get into the Chicago market," Fitzgerald said. "He couldn't get any gates at O'Hare or Midway.

"The entire Chicago region is being hurt because of Mayor Daley's opposition to a new third airport."

When it comes to the airport controversy, I have labeled Durbin "Senator Bobblehead."

Although Durbin now says he supports new runways at O'Hare, recently he told a group of business and political leaders from the southwest suburbs that he would support construction of Peotone.

Previously, he had written a letter to the U.S. transportation secretary urging him to consider Rockford as a potential reliever airport for O'Hare air traffic.

And when a newspaper columnist suggested that Gary might be a better option, Durbin told him that in the future he would make sure that Indiana was included in the mix of potential solutions.

Documents released by the Suburban O'Hare Commission, a group representing about a dozen northwest suburbs, revealed that Chicago's consultants have been predicting for at least 14 years that the region would need additional airport capacity.

Those documents recommend building a third airport in Chicago and include a number of plans for expanding O'Hare.

Yet, the city still has not released a plan to expand the airport.

During this time, United and American airlines have continued a massive publicity assault against a third airport in Peotone.

Cynics suggest that Daley has a secret plan to expand O'Hare, which is why he intends to spend about $6 billion on a World Gateway terminal project that would in theory not increase O'Hare capacity.

As one opponent of O'Hare expansion said, "That would be like building a giant new parking garage for a shopping mall while at the same time saying you have no plans to build the mall."

Durbin, who had often said he didn't have enough expertise to offer a solution to the aviation crisis, now weighs in with his O'Hare expansion proposal, complete with a July 1 deadline for a city-state agreement.

Some folks have to go to a baseball game to pick up a bobble-headed doll. Daley apparently has his own version in the form of a U.S. senator.

Phil Kadner may be reached at pkadner@dailysouthtown.com or (708) 633-6787.



[Chicago ATC News]