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Wed, May 23, 2007

Illinois' Bult Field Is Open For Business, But...

Promised Certification Is In The Mail

Bult Field in Monee, IL has had more than its fair share of turbulence in its month-long life. But, things are looking up... literally. On the day the airport was to receive its certificate of occupancy from the state, its owner welcomed its largest customer.

The Goodyear blimp arrived Monday as part of a promotional appearance for the 35th anniversary of a tire store, and is scheduled to remain until Wednesday.

"It's pretty impressive," airport owner and developer Jim Bult told the Monee Daily Southtown. "It's the first time I have ever had a blimp at my airport."

Goodyear representatives called Bult about two months ago, he said, looking for an airport that was free of trees and buildings to land the "Spirit of Goodyear" -- one of three blimps kept at the company's headquarters in Akron, OH.

An impressive 192-feet-by-50-feet, the airship's top speed is 55 mph. "We are built for beauty, not for speed," Goodyear spokesman Ed Ogden said.

Having the blimp and the accompanying publicity soothes Bult's nerves somewhat, after a long and frustrating battle with a bureaucracy that can't seem to make up its mind.

Bult requested a routine inspection from the Illinois Department of Transportation that would allow him to open for business more than six months ago, but IDOT has reportedly withheld issuing the necessary permits, because the airport's location falls within the 'footprint' of a proposed airport in Peotone.

Peotone is located about 40 miles south of Chicago. As reported by ANN, transportation planners have been working on a third regional airport for Illinois for at least 25 years, and Peotone is seen as a strong possibility for that field.

The state of Illinois submitted two plans for a much-anticipated Peotone airport to the FAA earlier this year... but the agency's reaction was: just one, please -- an unanticipated response to Peotone backers, according to Suburban Chicago News.

Said FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro, the FAA "doesn't consider the state's planning process complete until one design has been selected. We typically receive just one preferred plan."

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich himself included a second plan in addition to the Illinois DOT's own design at the urging of US Rep. Jesse Jackson (D-Chicago), often seen as the airport's biggest cheerleader.

By doubling the distance between the runways from the state's preference of a half-mile to a mile, said Rick Bryant, Jackson's spokesman and executive director of Jackson's Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission (ALNAC), Jackson's plan takes into account recent growth at Bult Field. The plan "is safer and allows for easier future expansion," Bryant said.

Bryant noted the FAA's one airport-one plan announcement, "contradicts what we have previously been told."

The submission of two plans for approval and the FAA selecting the best one, was the result of the governor's hopes of resolving a dispute over rival visions for the single-runway airport.

IDOT spokesman Mike Claffey said the FAA statement -- made to the Daily Southtown before IDOT and ALNAC officials had been contacted -- had been a "surprise" to the state, too.

No matter which plan for the airport is chosen, it's hard to imagine everyone being happy about it.

With the IDOT seemingly dragging its feet, Bult finally lost his patience and went ahead and opened April 15.

"They (IDOT) are fully aware I'm open for business," Bult said earlier this month. "They can tell me I am breaking the law somehow or just go ahead and say I'm compliant. It sounds like they want to just quietly come in, do what they need to do and get it done."

But IDOT -- which has a field office less than a mile from Bult Field's runway - denied being aware the airport was already open, according to the newspaper, and vowed to "talk to him" about it.

When told this, Bult chuckled. He said IDOT inspectors stopped by the airport a few days prior to take a look around after landing in their own plane -- on his runway.

The paperwork declaring Bult Field safe for operations was sent Friday, according to Claffey.

"It was a unique, unusual case," Claffey said.

After all this time, Bult remains doubtful anything has been issued.

"I'll believe it when I see it," he said.

FMI: www.fltplan.com/AirportInformation/KC56.htm, www.dot.state.il.us/

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