Metro-East News

American agrees to largest expansion in Chicago O'Hare Airport history

Groups of passengers wait to board a flight in separate numbered lanes at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.
Groups of passengers wait to board a flight in separate numbered lanes at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. AP

American Airlines will no longer oppose the planned expansion of O’Hare International Airport, under a deal reached late Wednesday.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Mayor Rahm Emanuel struck a deal to speed up construction of three new gates for American to use in the future, placating the airline’s complaints that Emanuel was cutting a secret deal with rival United Airlines to give them extra gates in the proposed expansion.

The $8.5 billion expansion includes an eight-year overhaul, a new global terminal, dozens of new gates and additional concourses, according to the Tribune. But behind the scenes, United, American and Chicago leaders had been arguing about the proposal, which goes to the Chicago City Council this week.

According to the mayor’s proposal, the total number of gates at O’Hare would increase from 185 to 220 by 2026, the amount of space for planes to park at gates would grow by 25 percent and the square feet of terminal space would increase by 72 percent.

The expansion would be the largest and most expensive in O’Hare’s 73-year history, according to the Tribune. It is hoped that the extra room would alleviate gridlock and delays as well as growing international flights.

The cost of the project was expected to be bankrolled by the airlines’ lease fees, which expire in May after 35 years. The rest of the cost would be borrowed from future airline fees, and would not require taxpayer dollars, according to the proposal.

American’s resistance was unlikely to derail the project, according to aviation experts, as Chicago is a key hub for the airline. Travelers have often cited O’Hare as dated, without the amenities of newer airports.

Elizabeth Donald; 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald

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