Air Transport World

Chicago's 'economic engine.' (Chicago-O'Hare International Airport)

The most important fact to remember about Chicago O'Hare International is that it has been, is and intends to remain the world's busiest airport. It is the biggest hub airport of them all. In Aviation Commissioner Jay Franke's words, it is "the biggest economic engine in Chicago."

As a result, complexities abound: Historical, geographical and physical, operational, political and commercial ones. Chicago is accustomed to being the U.S. transportation center for all modes-- and wants to stay that way. O'Hare covers 7,700 acres that were part of the western suburbs but were commandeered by Chicago authorities. Its six runways accommodated 270,000 operations in the first four months of 1992, 20,000 more than next-busiest Dallas/Ft. Worth, despite slot limits imposed after institution of the highdensity rule in 1969.

A vocal minority hates O'Hare's noise. But politicians, business interests, many citizens and airlines, primarily United and American Airlines, love its economic payoff and flight frequencies. They want O'Hare to expand. So far, that expansion has been linked politically to a new airport, perhaps at 9,400-acre Lake Calumet, which is being sold as the way to handle the bulk of Chicago's future aviation growth as well as a job producer.

Expansion, in the form of new runways-the Department of Transportation says one, airlines say two---and roadways, not only angers noise-hating neighbors but raises the specter of additional delays, already the cause of what aviation officials call O'Hare's "terrible image problem." The Chicago Delay Task Force established to study the problem used as its base 1988, when there were 103,000 hr. …

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