April 24, 2001

Chicago Sun-Times

Airline chief deals blow to Peotone

April 24, 2001


American Airlines' chief is resurrecting the idea of constructing a major central Illinois airport--a facility that could dampen the state's plans for a third regional airport in Peotone, but provide better air service Downstate.

"I suggest that it is time for Illinois to reconsider this concept," said American Chairman and CEO Donald J. Carty in an April 20 letter to state Rep. Kurt M. Granberg (D-Carlyle).

"An airport in central Illinois would produce the greatest benefit for most people," Carty, a Peotone opponent, wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.

The Illinois Department of Transportation participated in a feasibility study of the concept in 1988, along with the Federal Aviation Administration and leaders of Bloomington, Decatur, Springfield, Peoria and Champaign, which have mid-sized airports.

But the issue never progressed because the participants believed the existing airports could handle demand. They also cited cost and concerns that some of their airfields would be shuttered.

"Regionalizing air service would leave at least four airports with a surplus of facilities that are not readily convertible to other uses," stated final recommendations in the 1988 report, prepared by Coffman Associates Inc. of Kansas City, Mo.

However, the report added: "There is no questions [sic] that airline service in central Illinois can be improved." And the document found many people will drive long distances to an airport if the fares are right and the destinations enticing.

Some officials have suggested that a new Downstate airport be built between the main central Illinois cities, or that an existing airport be expanded.

Carty's letter claims a Peotone facility would harm Downstate airports as it would O'Hare and Midway airports.

"In our opinion, if a new airport is to be built it would be far wiser to build it to serve central Illinois rather than to compete with it," he wrote, adding there still "are probably too many airports in central Illinois for each to support the breadth and frequency of service most leisure and business travelers want."

A new Downstate regional airport likely would "attract most major airlines and could provide service ... to a broader range of destinations more often than is currently enjoyed by the four or five affected airports," he wrote.

Carty recently said he'd accept a Peotone airport if it meant O'Hare got new runways. But he insisted at the time that Peotone isn't needed and wouldn't help alleviate delays at O'Hare.

State Rep. George Scully (D-Flossmoor), a Peotone proponent, said the timing of the letter was suspicious because Peotone will be discussed today by the House Aviation Committee, to which he and Granberg belong.

He said Carty's letter is a clear attempt to put a "roadblock" in front of Gov. Ryan's Peotone plan and enlist more Downstate opposition to it.

"A third regional airport in the south suburbs would greatly enhance the utility of Downstate airports by giving them a place to land in the Chicago metro area, which they cannot do at O'Hare or Midway now because of a lack of capacity," he added.

Neither Carty nor Granberg could be reached for comment.

[Chicago ATC News]