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To get top-flight airports boss, pay a top wage

Even at airports that primarily serve passenger planes, you gotta pay the freight.

EDITORIAL

It should surprise nobody that Chicago can’t seem to lure a top professional to run one of the biggest airport systems in the world – O’Hare and Midway – because the city isn’t offering a top salary. Let’s face it — this is one huge job.

The current salary budgeted for Chicago’s aviation commissioner is $186,576 a year. Compare that with Jacksonville, Fla., where last year the airport boss was paid $280,000. Would you take a $95,000 pay cut to do a job with much more pressure and many more headaches? Chicago’s next aviation commissioner not only will oversee daily operations at the two airports, but also will have to keep tabs on a vast O’Hare runway expansion project and address the complaints of nearby communities fed up with jet noise.

In any discussion of Chicago’s economy, our airports loom large. This isn’t a job opening you can fill with a compliant payroller, although the city has done just that in the past. A true aviation management professional, with a wide range of skills and deep experience, is essential.

People get steamed when they see anybody on a public payroll get a big paycheck. We understand that. Too often the employee’s only great talent is currying favor with the politician who put him there. But to skimp on the salary for an airport czar? For somebody who has to run the behemoth that is O’Hare? You might as well try to low ball a brain surgeon.

City Hall has brought in an executive search firm to help the search committee led by former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Publicly, LaHood has boasted of the first-tier candidates available to replace Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino, but the Sun-Times’ Fran Spielman reported Wednesday that the relatively low salary has been a deal-breaker. Months have gone by, but nobody’s biting.

Politics being what they are, we doubt Mayor Emanuel or the aldermen will bump up that paycheck before the Feb. 24 elections. So let’s figure an ETA of Feb. 25, at the very earliest, to get this thing off the ground.