A dispute over whether pilot safety would be at risk if an east-west runway is eliminated at Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling has led a national association to drop the facility from a shortlist of contenders for a fly-in convention.
Piggybacking on a small-plane pilots group's concerns about the airport's proposed new layout, the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association board has decided to concentrate on other venues for the 2021 Migration.
The Migration features hundreds of Cirrus airplane owners flying in for a three-day gathering that includes an annual meeting, trade show, educational seminars and social events.
Migration Co-Chairman Erik Gundersen said this week the Cirrus group could not support linking the event to an airport where officials want to close a runway. He said he signed an online petition in support of keeping Runway 6/24 at Chicago Executive because it provides an east-west option for pilots to avoid dangerous crosswinds.
"Mainly, we're a safety organization, so closing a runway does not support general aviation as a whole but also specifically for safety," said Gundersen, a southern California resident who also is on the Cirrus organization's board. "Having a crosswind runway is a major safety component, especially for people coming from out of town."
Closing Runway 6/24 is among the proposals in Chicago Executive's updated master plan. Airport Executive Director Jamie Abbott says it would be irresponsible for the airport to continue spending money on the runway which accounts for only about 2% of an average 211 daily takeoffs and landings at the facility co-owned by Prospect Heights and Wheeling.
"While we wish the event organizers would reconsider, we stand firm in making the tough but smart decisions necessary to keep our airport operationally and financially sound," Abbott said.
Although the Federal Aviation Administration and state help fund maintenance o the airport's two larger runways, such is not the case for Runway 6/24, according to Chicago Executive. If it remains, the runway will need a comprehensive renovation within five years projected to cost at least $1 million, officials said.
Chicago Executive officials cite safety as a reason the runway should be eliminated. Infrastructure consultant Crawford, Murphy and Tilly Inc. of Aurora states in a report that the FAA considers the area where Runway 6/24 meets the airport's other two runways to be a confusing "hot spot" that should be eliminated.
Chicago Executive needs approval for the revised master plan from the elected officials in Wheeling and Prospect Heights. It was approved by a divided Wheeling village board in January.
Prospect Heights city council members are expected to consider the airport proposal at a meeting Monday night. The issue was on Prospect Heights' Feb. 24 agenda, but aldermen agreed to table the matter.
In addition to closing the east-west runway, the updated master plan calls for the airport to go from 700,000 square feet of hangar facilities to at least 1.5 million square feet, in anticipation of what officials say is a projected 7.4% increase in overall operational growth by 2036.
However, airport critic Steve Neff of Wheeling has questioned the idea of Chicago Executive buying out private property owners for the extra hangars and removing private property from the tax rolls.