Divided Wheeling village board OKs plan to close Chicago Executive runway

  • An new Chicago Executive Airport layout plan won approval from a divided Wheeling village board Monday, despite opposition from some pilots who say calls to remove one of the facility's runways will create safety risks. The proposal goes before the Prospect Heights city council next week.

    An new Chicago Executive Airport layout plan won approval from a divided Wheeling village board Monday, despite opposition from some pilots who say calls to remove one of the facility's runways will create safety risks. The proposal goes before the Prospect Heights city council next week. Daily Herald File Photo

 
By Jennifer Shea
Daily Herald correspondent
Updated 1/21/2020 4:26 PM

A divided Wheeling village board on Monday approved a new layout plan for Chicago Executive Airport that includes a controversial proposal to eliminate one of the facility's runways.

The proposed removal of Runway 6/24, a 3,677-foot airstrip that runs east-west and bisects the airport's primary and secondary runways, has met strong opposition from small plane pilots who regularly use the airport. But it's touted by Chicago Executive leaders as a safety measure that allows them to refocus resources on more pressing needs.

 

Wheeling and Prospect Heights co-own the airport, which handles about 80,000 corporate, charter and light-aircraft flights each year. Prospect Heights is scheduled to vote on the proposal Monday, Jan. 27.

The new layout is the centerpiece of the airport's updated master plan, a six-year process that cost $1.5 million. The plan does not call for an expansion of the airport beyond the 470 acres it currently occupies. Airport officials last year dropped any consideration of expanding runways after residents and elected officials objected.

Trustees Ray Lang, Jim Ruffatto, Joe Vito and Village President Patrick Horcher voted to approve the layout plan Monday, while trustees Mary Papantos and David Vogel voted against it. Trustee Mary Krueger was absent.

Before the vote, 11 members of the Chicago Executive Pilots Association spoke out against the airport's plan and asked trustees to delay their vote or strike the portion that closes the Runway 6/24. They say removing the runway creates a safety risk because it eliminates an option for pilots to avoid crosswinds during takeoffs and landings.

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But airport leaders say the Federal Aviation Administration considers the area where Runway 6/24 meets the facility's other two runways to be a confusing "hot spot." The FAA defines a hot spot as a location with a potential risk of collision or runway incursion.

Rob Mark, the pilot group's treasurer and a flight instructor, disputed the airport's claim that the FAA recommends removing the runway.

"Closing the runway most definitely will create a huge new safety risk," he said.

Pilot Andrew Warrington said the airport should invest in the infrastructure of "this important runway." And CEPA President Arthur Gund took issue with the airport's presentation of data, calling it inaccurate.

"I ask the village trustees to have skepticism regarding this plan," he said.

Wheeling resident Phil Mayder also spoke against the proposal.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"By closing this runway, they're just going to increase the amount of traffic that goes over my house," he said. "I want to be able to sit in my backyard without a constant stream of traffic."

Airport officials say Runway 6/24 is used for just 2% of operations at the airport. The FAA doesn't fund the maintenance or repair of the runway, so Chicago Executive has to pay the costs of 6/24's upkeep, they say. However, the FAA is funding hot spot removal projects across the country.

"This runway closure was studied thoroughly by our staff and engineers, which includes experienced pilots, and it was included on the (layout plan) after discussions with the FAA, the state of Illinois and other safety stakeholders," D. Court Harris, chairman of the Chicago Executive Airport board of directors, wrote in a letter to Horcher. "By bisecting the primary and secondary runways, 6/24 is the major contributing cause to a ground safety issue identified by the FAA as a top priority to remove."

If Prospect Heights aldermen follow the Wheeling board's lead next week and approve the plan, it will next go through an FAA environmental review, which will include a public hearing.

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