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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 1 April, 2003, 13:37 GMT 14:37 UK
Chicago runway bulldozed
View of runway (Photo AOPA)
Crosses were dug in the runway, stranding aircraft (Photo AOPA)
The mayor of Chicago outraged pilots by sending bulldozers in the middle of the night to tear up the runway at an airport in the centre of the city.

Mayor Richard Daley said he had acted to prevent a terrorist attack because the airport, Meigs Field, is "a second's flight time" from skyscrapers such as the Sears Tower.

Critics have accused the mayor of playing on people's fears after 11 September to pursue a long-held aim of turning the airport, which runs along the Lake Michigan waterfront, into a public park.

Though only a small, single-runway airport, Meigs Field is known far outside Chicago because it is the start-up airfield for Microsoft's Flight Simulator computer game - many people worldwide learned to "fly" there.

Huge, X-shaped ditches were carved into the runway early on Monday, stranding about 16 aircraft which were parked alongside at the time, according to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), which has published aerial photographs showing the extent of the damage.

"Mayor Daley bulldozed his way into aviation history this morning by destroying a national treasure and potentially causing unsafe flying conditions," said John Carr, air traffic control union president. "It's the epitome of arrogance."


At a news conference, Mayor Daley did not explain why he had acted under cover of darkness, without notifying anyone in advance.

Meigs runway and city
Meigs is right next to downtown Chicago
Last December, after six years of lobbying, AOPA thought it had won an agreement to keep Meigs open for at least 25 years.

AOPA President Phil Boyer said on Monday: "We are absolutely shocked and dismayed."

He accused Mayor Daley of having gone back on his word.

"The sneaky way he did this shows that he knows it was wrong," Mr Boyer said.

As for the risk of terrorism, he said closing the control tower at Meigs Field had removed an expert local eye on aircraft movements.

The Federal Aviation Administration said the mayor did have the authority to shut down the airport, but said closing Meigs put added pressure on O'Hare and Midway, the city's two main passenger airports.

Because of the lack of warning it was unable to issue an advisory warning pilots that Meigs was closed until hours after the event.

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