Air Transport World

Chicago's man in the aviation hot seat. (Jay Franke, Chicago Department of Aviation commissioner)

Factor No. 1: Chicago has been a transportation hub for most of its history and intends to remain so.

Factor No. 2: The mayor of Chicago is Richard Daley, whose famous father made municipal politics an art form.

Factor No. 3: O'Hare International Airport, No. 1 in operations in the U.S., is one of four slot-controlled airports.

Factor No. 4: Chicago is the only place in the country where the industry gets an unobstructed view of United Airlines fighting it out with American for dominance.

All of these make Chicago an aviation hotbed. That means its aviation commissioner occupies a very hot seat.

Jay Franke, a lawyer and administrator with no previous aviation experience, became commissioner of the Chicago Department of Aviation in mid-1989. A major project, O'Hare's new international terminal, was going nowhere and gathering controversy. "When I arrived," he recalls, "it had been kicking around for three years. It was not a done deal." The airport and airlines still were arguing over who had to use the facility and how it would be funded. Surprisingly, another issue was parking. How was it to be parceled out?

His approach to resolving problems is to start with facts. He does not believe in emotional discussions. "I'm a lawyer. I turn issues into facts. You'd be surprised how many issues can be quieted by answering the simple question: 'How many [parking spaces, for example] do you need?' Argument is foolish in such circumstances. [Assessing the facts first] is the only way to approach a multifaceted problem."

That approach seems to work. Airlines are uniformly complimentary of his regime. They see him as an objective outsider in the omnipresent wars between airports and carriers.

An official of a Big Three carrier says: "He's always accessible and approachable. I've never had that happen with any other airport director in the country." An airline manager says: "On the issues, Franke is very responsive. He always is willing to listen." Another praises his top staff, including first deputy commissioner Mary Rose Loney, who runs O'Hare, and David Suomi, who runs Midway. …

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