Friday, April 20, 2012

What the airlines want – more at O’Hare International rather than new elsewhere

The ongoing debate over the status of Chicago’s airports is so old that even the talking points are now repeating themselves.

Which is what I sensed when I read a Crain’s Chicago Business account of a Thursday business forum in which the CEO of United Continental made it clear that the airline doesn’t think much of talk of building a new airport in rural Will County between Peotone and Beecher.

CEO JEFFREY SMISEK said that he believes that O’Hare International Airport  would be totally adequate for Chicago’s aviation needs in its current form – IF more modern GPS technology were installed to improve air traffic control facilities.

Such technology would make it possible to get more flights into the one-time World’s Busiest Airport into the existing number of runways. The improvements made during the era of Richard M. Daley would be adequate.

And there certainly wouldn’t be any need to build a new facility anywhere. Specifically of an airport near Peotone, Smisek said, “there’s no demand for it.”

Now I’m sure the local residents who live in homes scattered apart from each other and surrounded by acres of cornfields will be pleased to hear that. I wouldn’t be surprised if when they gather on Saturday to engage in a counter-demonstration to a group of South Side and suburban pastors who want to “bless” the ground upon which an airport may someday be built, they will recite Smisek’s rhetoric as some sort of “empirical evidence” of the righteousness of their cause.

WHICH IS NONSENSE. But then again, this is an issue where all the sides are capable of spewing self-serving rhetoric. It is all too easy to get a headache after listening to airport-related debate, because the decades have hardened everybody’s position so much.

There is no give-and-take. We might as well be talking about abortion rights!

Personally, I have never been swayed by the argument that “the airlines don’t want it.”

Because I realize that what the airlines want is as many flights as possible squeezed into O’Hare, with whatever expansion efforts necessary being undertaken to allow more-and-more-and-more.

I REALIZE THAT the suburban towns such as Park Ridge, Elk Grove Village and Wood Dale (the ones that border directly against the airport) could become unbearable places to live if that facility gets to be too big.

No amount of noise-proofing could comfort those residents. And the argument that “they knew they were living near an airport when they moved there” just sounds insipid in such cases.

And as for those people who want to argue that “Peotone’s too far away,” the reality is that Will County has long been a part of the Chicago-area – a fact that is becoming more-and-more apparent in recent years.

All the people moving further south from Chicago are the reason that Will County’s 39 percent population increase during the past decade is the largest percentage increase of any county in Illinois.

A LOT OF the resistance to a new airport is coming from people who object to this fact and think they can fight it off. And while I’m not saying that all of the Peotone critics are like this, I do sense the fact that some of these rural-oriented people have their hang-ups with the fact that the South Side and suburbs whose officials want an airport as a possible economic jolt for their area are African-American.

Although I must confess that when the airport proponents focus so intently with talk about “jobs,” they miss the point to. An airport’s primary purpose is to handle the air traffic. Any economic activity created around it is secondary.

Considering that it has been three decades since the Federal Aviation Administration said Chicago would need a new airport to accommodate air traffic expected in the 21st Century (and plans to build a new airport near Lake Calumet have been dead for more than two decades), I can’t help but wonder how negative the partisan politics has been.

We’ve gone this long without a new facility that the Ronald-Reagan era officials decided we need. How much longer will we have to wait before some activity really takes place?


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