Getting Airports Aloft

Flying to, from, or through Chicago's O'Hare International Airport can often evoke strong reactions from seasoned travelers.

O'Hare ranks third on the list of airports with the worst on-time record in the country. (Only LaGuardia and Newark airports beat it, and they're a lot smaller.) And because it's the hub for two of the nation's biggest air carriers, United and American, problems at O'Hare frequently jam up the system all around the country.

Flight delays at O'Hare and other airports raise the question of who should control the building of new airports or expansion of old ones - municipal, state, or federal governments?

Is it time to federalize airport building? Could be. Partly because air transportation is arguably just an extension of the Interstate Highway System, except a few thousand feet up (the Federal Aviation Administration already controls air traffic). And partly because many state and local politicians have made a mess of things when it comes to air-travel issues.

Take building more runways at O'Hare, an idea favored by Democratically controlled Chicago. Republicans want a new airport built somewhere else instead. Fearing competition, United and American have used their clout to help block a new airport. Add to that the veto power of Illinois's Republican governor over runway expansion, and the result is no new runways, or airports, and too many frustrated passengers.

Enter Sens. Tom Harkin (D) and Charles Grassley (R) of Iowa, who both favor O'Hare expansion. They've held out the threat of federal intervention since air-travel delays affect interstate commerce, which is regulated at the federal level. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle recently threw his weight behind the idea.

Some pressure from Capitol Hill may prove just the thing to help unlock state and local gridlock and resolve the crowded situations at O'Hare and other airports.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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