March 8, 2001 Chicago Tribune

Special to the Tribune
March 8, 2001

St. Charles aldermen are set to launch a pre-emptive strike against any plans for scheduled passenger service at DuPage Airport.

At the suggestion of Ald. Jim Martin, the City Council is poised to pass a resolution at its next meeting opposing the introduction of any scheduled passenger service at the airfield in West Chicago.

"Whenever an issue comes up," said Mayor Sue Klinkhamer, "we like to get in front of it because we know how they tend to do things [at the airport]."

Martin said he became concerned about the possibility after reading about a study by the DuPage Airport Authority of the potential benefits and costs of scheduled passenger service.

But DuPage, now Illinois' third-largest airport with 220,000 takeoffs and landings each year, "in no way, shape or form is considering starting a scheduled service," said spokesman Brian Kulpin. "Just a simple phone call from St. Charles would probably solve the problems."

A recent 10-page analysis of the airport and what requirements might have to be met is no more than a framework, like a growing city would use to make plans for future road and sewer infrastructure, he said.

There have been inquiries from Air Canada and several other private organizations about starting operations. "When we get such calls, we have to have answers because as a public entity we cannot just arbitrarily say no," Kulpin said. "We have to give them a fair hearing and base our decision on facts ... just like a city does [with developers]."

Martin said he was awakened not long ago at 3:05 a.m. by a jet taking off. "It sounded like it was coming through my house."

Among Martin's not-too-distant neighbors are Aldermen Ron Silkaitis, Betsy Penney, Art Lemke and Jo Kreiger. All live in east St. Charles and close to the western end of the airport's east-west runway.

"When they expanded several years ago, they said the runway would run north and south," Martin said, "and the east-west runways would not be used except for emergencies."

Martin said the airport has long been a source of concern to St. Charles.

Ever since the Fox Valley Airport Authority lost control to the DAA in a political power play, the communities in Kane County have been at the mercy of those who run the airport.

"When I was a candidate for mayor in 1973, one of the major issues was the airport's expansion," Martin said. "And in spite of all our efforts, the airport has continued to expand. Things they then promised, or at least mentioned, was that the runways would not be expanded [because] they were too lightly built to carry heavy loads and there would be no passenger service."

He said the idea of jets that weigh 51,000 pounds and carry 50 passengers using DuPage is "outrageous ... though it may be beyond our control."

Kulpin and Gordon Cole, the airport's executive director, have said jets of that size and weight, which are now being used by regional airlines serving small or mid-sized cities, are similar to the corporate aircraft that regularly fly in and out of DuPage. Officials have said DuPage may be an attractive destination for passenger service from Champaign-Urbana, Detroit, Minneapolis and Indianapolis.

"I'm not sure the city can influence [the Airport Authority] other than get them to understand our needs," said Larry Maholland, St. Charles city administrator. "It's not that we have any control, but the bigger concern is that once, or if, [passenger service] gets started, it will grow."

Martin agrees. "We've been there for many years, concerning this issue. I'm sure that Geneva, Batavia and Wayne will be picking up on it very shortly if they hear me and our council.

"Unfortunately, it's a battle we can't win. They're going to beat us because we don't carry the power."