Thursday, November 20, 2008

Airlines at last say no to further O’Hare expansion

In a stunning reversal and a slap at Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley’s grandiose dream to expand O’Hare International Airport, the major carriers have rejected costly city plans for additional runways and terminals the airport.

The significance of the reversal, disclosed today by Chicago Tribune reporters Jon Hilkevitch and Julie Johnson, would be difficult to understate. In rejecting further expansion, the airlines have reversed their long-held support of Daley’s expansion plans, and now have sided with long-time critics. Among them were a former acting administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration and other prominent airline industry experts hired by expansion opponents to analyze the plans.

Aside from vindication for the opponents, the apparent delay, if not death, of the expansion plans raises significant questions for the Chicago region, now to be honestly faced. Chief among them is the fate of the proposed south suburban airport, which has been moldering on the drawing boards, thanks in great part to Daley’s opposition.

The airline’s opposition, expressed last summer to the FAA but hidden for months by the Daley administration from public view, also raises questions about who is to blame for this multi-billion-dollar fiasco. Only one runway has been built, set to open soon, which the city long had claimed would increase capacity, but which the FAA more recently said would only decrease delays, and by only a small amount at that. The list will be long, which will be explored at some more length on these pages.

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