Understanding Airports 

Howard Deevers 


Airports are as important to pilots as highways are to drivers. We need places to land, to keep our airplanes, and to get services. Preferably the airport would be near a city or a location that we would like to visit, just as roads and highways will lead to places we need, or want, to go. The bigger the city, the bigger the airport that serves it. Airports serve rural towns and cities as well, and that is what makes aviation pay us back in travel time.

Bigger cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Dallas, and others will need more than one airport to handle the aviation traffic. Midway, in Chicago, was the busiest airport in the country until O’Hare opened in 1955, and the airlines moved quickly to the larger facility. Midway almost disappeared, but later became an important reliever airport for Chicago. Mayor Richard M. Daley tried to close Midway to make it into an industrial park, because he favored building a new airport south of the city with rail transportation to downtown. When that effort failed, he supported revitalizing Midway. Later, his attention turned to Meigs Field, right on the lakefront of Chicago. After a long battle with AOPA, and the FAA, the mayor ordered the airport to be destroyed in 2003, and it never reopened. The mayor said that he would turn it into a park.


The proximity of Meigs to downtown Chicago made it an ideal airport for small business jets, light twins, and single engine airplanes to fly into for any business or vacations in Chicago. Also, Meigs was an ideal airport for the large exhibit halls of McCormack Place. The City of Chicago gained many millions of dollars from the airport, but the “Park” that never appeared has not contributed one dollar to the economy. Pilots that used that airport—including me several times—are still wondering about the logic behind that destruction, if logic had anything to do with it.


Bader Field, in Atlantic City, NJ, had a history going back to 1910. One great distinction for the airport is that it was the founding location of the Civil Air Patrol in 1941. Bader was so close to the Atlantic City boardwalk that you could fly into the airport and walk the short distance to the casinos, and entertainment. The Atlantic City International Airport 10 miles away offered longer runways and Bader started to fade in the 1990’s. Some of the Atlantic City Casinos closed also, and it makes us pilots wonder if there is a connection there? Yes, I flew into Bader too, for a day of adventure, and made a night flight back to Pittsburgh.


Santa Monica airport in the Los Angeles area will close in the next 10 years. The local folks want it closed yesterday. That is another airport with an impressive history. It was a very important airport during WW II. Production of planes for the war effort brought in residents for the jobs available. At the beginning of the war, there were no homes near the airport, but the neighborhood grew quickly with the need for housing for workers. Now there are many airports in the LA Basin, and the people that want Santa Monica closed don’t fly or use that airport. If they need to fly somewhere, they just go to LAX, only a few miles from SMO.

The pilot population is just a small percentage of the overall population and can get outvoted on every issue. Non-pilots outnumber us greatly. If there is nothing in it for them, why keep an airport at all? They are unable to see the value of an airport that brings in revenue to the community, provides jobs at the airport, and enhances the community in general. Their position is that airplanes make too much noise and are polluting the environment. With that kind of thinking we could end up with only one airport in a large community, and GA will not be a part of that. Yes, I have flown into SMO also. I’m sure that pilots that have found that airport to be close to where they need to be will miss it when it is gone.

I am not one to believe that all airports should stay open forever. Some airports have closed simply because there was not enough income to keep them open. Some rural airports have closed for that reason, and that is too bad, because those are the places that need an airport where there are no other airports close by to fill the need. Have you ever landed at an airport out in a rural area, and there is no one around? You just wonder, how can this place exist? Maybe in 10 years it won’t exist. My crystal ball broke a long time ago, so I’m not very good at predicting the future (actually I never was good at that). Let’s hope that there will be airports for us in the future, so we need to do what we can now to keep them open.

Do you need a flying adventure? Check the ARIZONA PILOTS ASSOCIATION website and you will find many places to fly in to and be part of the action, maybe just for lunch or breakfast, or maybe to help restore an airport to keep it open for future fliers. I have been to many airports in Arizona, but there are still places I have not seen, and I hope there will be an airport there when I do go. Check the website for the next safety seminar and “Bring your wingman.”