Rockford as third airport in Chicagoland

The Greater Rockford Airport Authority codified its position on Peotone as the third area airport for Chicagoland at a recent board meeting. The following “Policy Statement” set forth “the rationale as to why ‘Peotone’ doesn’t make transportation sense for Chicagoland, the region, the state or the national aviation system,” announced Bob O’Brien, executive director of the Northwest Chicagoland Regional Airport at Rockford. The Policy Statement will be submitted to the FAA as a part of the “public listening session being conducted by the FAA on Peotone.”

Policy statement of the Greater Rockford Airport Authority (GRAA) on the Chicago third Area Airport: Peotone.

Aviation is the economic engine of the global market as we enter the 21st century. For the regional air service market of communities in northern Illinois, southern Wisconsin and eastern Iowa to compete effectively, an effective regional aviation system is mandated. However, our region has struggled with building that system, without success, for more than 40 years. To stabilize and ultimately regain our region’s competitive edge, it is essential that we immediately seize the opportunities that are currently available.


n O’Hare and Midway Airports. The Chicago Aviation System (O’Hare and Midway airports) plays a pivotal role in the combined northern Illinois, southern Wisconsin, and eastern Iowa air service market area. O’Hare and Midway are valued, but highly congested aviation resources. Future improvements beyond those already underway at Midway will be self-limiting, given the landlocked nature of that airport. Further, assuming immediate and aggressive action to enhance O’Hare’s existing capacity (realignment of the runway system, terminal and landside improvements), real relief to existing congestion will not be realized for another eight to 15 years, according to Chicago Aviation officials.

n A “Green Field” alternative for the regional airport system. Common sense dictates that investments in “existing” airports be utilized to their fullest potential before a new “green field” airport is constructed. To do otherwise would be fiscally irresponsible. The $400 million plus development cost of “Mid-America Airport” in southern Illinois serves as a perfect example of building an unnecessary airport for which there was no demonstrated market demand and which was not desired by the airline industry. However, as a result of parochialism, politics and premature concerns of capacity constraints in Saint Louis, the airport was built and sits idle year after year. It makes no sense to make the same mistake again, especially when surplus capacity exists with the regional airport system.

n Regional Airport System. Milwaukee’s Mitchell Field, the Dane County Regional Airport at Madison, Wis., the Dubuque Regional Airport, the Quad Cities Airport at Moline, Ill., the Gary Regional at Indiana and the Northwest Chicagoland Regional Airport at Rockford, all play very important, complementary roles for the regional air service market area. However, all except one (The Northwest Chicagoland Regional Airport at Rockford) are at the extreme boundaries of the air service market area, making their role, by default, more local and/or truly regional in nature. The single exception is the existing international grade aviation facilities at RFD, the Northwest Chicagoland Regional Airport at Rockford, which is geographically centered in the region, yet undeniably underutilized.

n Northwest Chicagoland Regional Airport at Rockford (RFD). RFD’s infrastructure is international in nature, as attested to by its status as the 23rd largest air cargo airport in the entire United States (O’Hare is ranked 8th, Milwaukee 51st, by comparison). It has a 10,000 foot primary runway with the state-of-the-art Category III landing system (a system traditionally limited to O’Hare, Detroit and Minneapolis-sized airports). Its $20 million airline terminal is less than 15 years old and is currently capable of providing four out of the five jet bridges called for in the scaled-back, multi-billion dollar Peotone project in a matter of months at RED versus years at Peotone! RFD’s 3,000 plus acre complex makes it five times the existing landmass of Chicago Midway. Its airspace is uncongested and independent of the highly congested Chicago air space. RFD possesses everything that is needed to solve our region’s ongoing aviation gridlock now. Equally as important, 8.3 million people live within 90 minutes of RFD, the “Northwest Chicagoland Regional Airport at Rockford”!

In conclusion, all existing improvements planned for Chicago O’Hare and Chicago Midway will not adequately address existing demand, let alone future demand. Moreover, other existing airports are too far removed from the area of concentrated passenger demand (the northwest and western suburbs of Chicagoland), unless linked via rail (which, unfortunately, has not been planned for). In consideration of the above, it is essential that our region’s citizens and leaders proactively and cooperatively proclaim, promote and otherwise integrate RFD as a supplemental airport for Chicagoland and the regional air service market area.

Therefore, the Board of Commissioners of the Greater Rockford Airport Authority encourages all regional leaders to:

n Proclaim their support for immediately addressing long overdue solutions of the aviation congestion in our region in a bi-partisan and financially responsible and proactive manner.

n Take action to discontinue spending taxpayer funds on a green field site in Peotone or any other location until it can be clearly demonstrated that every effort has been made to utilize existing airports in satisfying regional aviation demands.

Bob O’Brien is the executive director of the Northwest Chicagoland Regional Airport of Rockford.

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