Friday, March 25, 2011

O’Hare still a focal point for nation, and the lessons we learn as a society

O'Hare International Airport has experienced physical changes since this 1960's postcard image. Yet it remains a place with an impact on the soul of the nation -- even when things occur at other airports.

It always seems to be about Chicago whenever airports get involved, even if it happens in some other city.

Chicago has always been a focal point for the nation’s aviation system, regardless of the mode of transportation. To this day, there are many of those hundreds of thousands of flights each year at O’Hare International Airport that involve people headed from one place to another – who make their connection here.

SO SHOULD IT be any shock that when controversial incidents occur involving airplanes, somehow Chicago will be involved.

One such incident took place at Reagan Airport near Washington, D.C. (I’ll bet the ideologues are wishing today that it were still known as National Airport), where it seems that an air traffic controller fell asleep on the job.

At least two flights headed for Reagan Airport wound up having to land without the assistance of someone in the control tower.

On the one hand, it means those were incredibly skilled pilots who managed to bring down their airplanes without causing commotion, a collision with another flight, or some other form of catastrophe.

BUT IT ALSO means that the people whose job it is to keep the various incoming flights under control were literally “asleep” at the wheel. And yes, one of those flights was one that originated from Chicago and was carrying 63 passengers to the nation’s capital.

I’m sure those people are now feeling a bit queasy to learn the lone control tower staffer wasn’t alert at the moment they were trying to land, and wound up having to contact Federal Aviation Administration officials at a facility about 40 miles from the airport, in order to receive any assistance whatsoever in trying to land.

That facility usually exists to keep small aircraft from getting anywhere near close to Reagan Airport, so as to make it easier for the control tower to guide aircraft in and out of the major airport for our nation’s capital.

For the record, the FAA is acting very offended by all this behavior. At least one person has been suspended, and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has ordered at least two people to work at all times in the Reagan Airport control tower – including the overnight shfit.

NOW I’M NOT one who flies very often. Not that I have a fear of flying (I actually see it as being safer than riding in a car, since it is a lot easier for some seriously incompetent people to get driver’s licenses than to get a pilot’s license).

But I have to admit this moment makes me wary of the whole process. It’s like driving an automobile and not being sure if the traffic signals are going to be working properly. All it would have taken was one seriously incompetent pilot and this whole situation would have become a mess.

It would have been one that would have entangled our own city’s flights. Because just as much as the Internet makes us all one big world and shows how arbitrary our local boundaries are, aviation has just as much of an effect.

Another aviation story cropped up into the news on Thursday, and it too had a Chicago angle – even though the dateline for this particular incident was “DETROIT –.”

A MAN WITH sympathies to al-Qaida had a desire to make his political/religious/social statement by causing an explosion on board an airplane – specifically a commercial flight.

Yes, he considered pulling his devastating and deadly action on a flight out of Chicago – perhaps envisioning us getting all emotional over the sight of an airplane exploding in the skies just moments after leaving O’Hare. It sounds too similar to the explosion some 25 years ago of the Challenger space shuttle – the one that caused schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe’s name to be placed on school buildings across the country as a tribute in the years since.

But this particular activist/radical/terrorist (personally, a prefer the word “nutcase”) ran into a very real practicality in trying to pull off this scam. Flights involving Chicago were just too expensive.

He couldn’t’ afford the tickets that would have gained him access to the aircraft. So, he shifted his attention to Detroit, according to the Associated Press newswire service.

NOT THAT THE people of Michigan should be expecting to see this happen any time soon. The plot got thwarted. The individuals involved are now trying to figure out how to cope with federal criminal charges, while also achieving their ultimate goal of spiritual perfection over a nation of “infidels.”

And we are left trying to figure out where the next batch of nutcases who use religion as a disguise for the reactionary thought against western world society will try to strike next.

So perhaps we in Chicago should not relax too much. Maybe the next batch of people seeking to make a statement with violence will have a little bit more money to afford an airline ticket originating at O’Hare International or Midway airports.


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