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Testimony of David Vornholt, Member, National Business Aviation Association, Airports/Heliports Standing Committee Before the Senate Illinois General Assembly

Monday, May 12, 2003
Springfield, Illinois

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Thank you. It is, indeed, an honor and a privilege to appear before this panel on behalf of the National Business Aviation Association -- in my role as a member of the NBAA Airports Standing Committee, and as a strong proponent of Chicago’s Meigs Field. Further, I am a former member of NBAA’s Board of Directors and believe it safe to say that the Association’s approximately 7,400 Member Companies and the broader business aviation community NBAA represents have great interest in how this committee and the Illinois General Assembly respond to the challenges confronting the aviation system of the Chicago area, including the difficult situation at Meigs Field.

Business Aviation and the Economy

Before providing some perspective on S.B. 802, I will briefly highlight the integral role of business aviation in the national air transportation system. As NBAA President Jack Olcott states, “Business aviation and aviation in general represent an enabling technology for achieving America’s economic and social objectives.” The value of aviation, including business aviation, to the Nation’s economy and quality of life makes a compelling argument for maintaining and enhancing the various elements of our aviation infrastructure, including Meigs Field.

A report issued in July of last year by DRI-WEFA, Inc., in collaboration with Campbell-Hill Aviation Group, Inc., entitled “The National Economic Impact of Civil Aviation,” emphasized that civil aviation generated in Calendar Year 2000 a total economic impact of $904 billion in GDP and 11.2 million jobs. Of this, $102 billion in GDP and 1.3 million jobs were generated by general aviation, of which business aviation is a significant part. Conservatively, the analysis also shows that every dollar invested in the aviation infrastructure generates nearly five dollars in benefits to the U.S. economy. Clearly, investment in the aviation system affecting Chicago and the State of Illinois is a significant consideration in this regard.

In these difficult times, particularly for the aviation system, another economic consideration has been illuminated. Business aviation has become an ever-increasing factor in that system, as companies work harder to bring the ebb and flow of commerce to communities throughout the country and around the world, safely and securely. The aviation system in the Chicago area and throughout the State of Illinois, including Meigs Field, is a key part of this equation, as well.

Meigs Field Developments

NBAA joined with other general aviation associations (some who are also represented at this hearing) in expressing shock and outrage at the decision of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley to force the closure of Meigs Field, particularly in the name of “Homeland Security.” Actions such as this ignore the importance of federal authority relative to homeland security and only hurt law-abiding American citizens with a need and desire to fly, in this case those in the aviation community that rely on Meigs Field. And, the bulldozing of the airport’s only runway shortly after midnight exhibited a blatant disregard for this country’s governmental process. Again, the “City of Chicago” has ignored the inherently federal responsibility for securing the homeland and the value of maintaining a federally coordinated airport and airway system. The situation at Chicago’s Meigs Field represents a unique challenge that, indeed, should and can be addressed by this committee and the Illinois General Assembly.

S.B. 802

As you aware, legislation is pending in the Illinois General Assembly, S.B. 802 that has been described as the “O’Hare Modernization Act.” But, the limited focus of the measure compels NBAA to express opposition to the measure. As you are also aware, in December, 2001, an agreement had been reached – publicly – between then Illinois Governor George Ryan and Mayor Daley that would not only modernize O’Hare, but also establish priority for a new airport at Peotone and preserve Meigs Field for at least 24 years. Again, because of this situation, opposition to S.B. 802 is urged until it is modified in line with the agreement mentioned leading to the reopening of Meigs Field.

NBAA and individual elements of the business aviation community join with those who stress the importance of Meigs Field to the region’s airport system. And, there is concurrence with the airport’s role in public safety and, yes, security. Further, the business aviation community is sensitive to the contribution Meigs Field makes for the young people of Chicago and the State of Illinois in the context of education and recreation.

NBAA became engaged in the debate about Meigs Field more than six years ago, particularly when former Governor Jim Edgar and Mayor Daley discovered a compromise that was designed to provide a five year period for the airport to exhibit its value. But, in fact, Mayor Daley failed to live up to that agreement sufficiently so that Meigs Field could have a fair chance. Now Mayor Daley has endeavored to give up on another agreement by damaging the runway. Don’t allow these actions, which also fail to honor the integrity of fair, reasonable and responsible governmental process, to be successful. Do the right thing and enhance the measure to ensure all the benefits of an agreement that will truly enhance the aviation system in Chicago, Illinois and the United States. Otherwise, oppose S.B. 802 as currently presented.

Concluding Remarks

That concludes my testimony, and I am prepared to respond to any questions you may have. Let me add that NBAA and the broader business aviation community and I have confidence in the wisdom, insight and desire to serve the people of Illinois that each of you posses as you endeavor to fulfill your responsibilities in a fair, reasonable and responsible manner. Thank you.