Air Transport World

Fixing O'Hare: plan for a new airfield will eliminate delays caused by intersecting runways--if it can get past the local opposition.(Airports)

There's hope for O'Hare. The world's busiest airport can be fixed. It won't be easy, it won't be quick and it certainly won't be cheap, but it can be done.

Because Chicago O'Hare International Airport is a major domestic and international hub for two of the planet's largest airlines, delays here impact schedules across North America and, indeed, the world. The turbulent Midwestern weather--thunderstorms in the spring and summer, snow and ice in the winter--makes a bad situation worse, but the underlying problem rests with the layout of the airport itself. All but one of the seven runways on the 7,300-acre airfield intersect, forcing controllers to close an arrivals runway during certain weather conditions usually high winds but sometimes low visibility--because the weather could preclude use of land-and-hold-short procedures. These closures reduce the airport's capacity by a third. Every study of air traffic delays cites O'Hare as a major factor.

Reflecting the depth of concern and the lack of near-term solutions, the US Dept. of Transportation last month took the extraordinary step of calling US airlines to Washington to discuss schedule cutbacks in hopes of reducing the record level of delays experienced here over the past few months. These were in addition to two previous rounds of cutbacks by American Airlines and United Airlines that resulted in a 7.5% reduction in operations by those carriers. "We cannot permit O'Hare congestion to ground an economy and aviation system that are both roaring back," Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta declared at the time.

Ironically, putting O'Hare's problems back on the front page may be just what is needed to overcome foes of long-held plans to overhaul the airport radically by rearranging the runways. After years of politicking, nearly all the state and regional officials who matter have signed on to the city's O'Hare Modernization Program, but there is still formidable opposition from a few small communities on the western border of the airport. These aren't just suburban do-gooders waving protest signs. They are well-funded, sophisticated, backed by a corps of impressively credentialed and expensive consultants, and relentless, They insist the OMP could cost up to $20 billion and only make matters worse, and say the answer is to build a new airport at Peotone some 45 mi. …

Log in to your account to read this article – and millions more.