By Ralph Hood
I write this while cringing in a deep abyss of paralyzing depression. Upon looking up the Chicago Tribune website and reading its special report, "Clearing The Air: Solutions to Gridlock," I was horrified. All of my right-wing opinions about the impotency of guvmint bodies were held up, supported, and strengthened by this report.
The Tribune has done a masterful job. This is the newspaper, remember,
that won a Pulitzer Prize just six months ago for its series on gridlock
at O’Hare. They have, as we say down south, got their stuff together
on this subject.
First, they identify the problem as no guvmint bureaucrat would or could. "The airport," says the report, "is and has been a disaster for quite some time." Can anybody argue? (Actually, it could be argued that I have no right to report. I have avoided O’Hare like the very plague itself for years, using it only under extreme duress. I will do almost anything to avoid the place.)
Having thus identified the problem, the Tribune outlines a six-step program to solve it. The steps are fewer and simpler than AA’s 12-step program, but when the Trib went on to explain what must happen for the six steps to become reality, I lost hope.
The six steps are: More runways at O’Hare; creation of an aviation authority for the area; streamline air traffic control; reduce overscheduling; a new airport at Peotone, IL (how did any city get a name like Peotone?); and, increase the use of regional airports.
Simple enough, so what’s the problem? Well, the top three are politics, politics, and more politics. All of this requires the cooperation of city, state, and feds amid, and I quote, "the deepening enmity" involved.
Basically, the problem is that the city has O’Hare and no incentive to encourage additional airports. O’Hare wants more runways, but its neighbors don’t. The state wants to expand use of other airports while holding up expansion at O’Hare, and the feds, well, you know about the feds. As near as I can tell, it’s kind of like that line in the old Kingston Trio song: "…and I don’t like anybody very much."
Just one example: It takes 18 months to three years to build a new runway, but ten years if you include jumping through all the hoops.
Compare that to the massive highway/bridge destruction caused by the earthquake in California’s Bay Area back in 1989. The powers that be let a repair contract to an aggressive business. The contract set a deadline for completion, then set whopping — and I mean really whopping — bonuses for each day the contractor beat the deadline. That contractor had lights up instantly, worked round the clock, finished the repairs in record time, and made gobs of money.
Here’s the Hood plan for the six steps: Sign a contract with Herb Kelleher, who is stepping down from the top job at Southwest, and Jack Welch, who is doing likewise at General Electric. Sell those two the rights to all aviation in northern Illinois. They’ll form a company, sell stock (maybe they will give shares to those who live in O’Hare’s traffic pattern), lobby like hell at all levels, and get that job done faster’n Bill Clinton could spot a cute woman at a cocktail party.
Heck, I’d buy some of that stock. Wouldn’t you?
Ralph Hood is a Certified Speaking Professional who has addressed aviation groups throughout North America. A pilot since 1969, he’s insured and sold airplanes at retail and distributor levels and taught aviation management for Southern Illinois University. He currently serves as National CFI Marketing Mentor for AOPA’s Project Pilot Instructor Program. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org