May 23, 2001 Daily Herald

O'Hare controllers join chorus for runways

By Robert McCoppin Daily Herald Staff Writer

As Chicago officials moved Tuesday to speed efforts to reduce flight delays, air traffic controllers joined the call for new runways at O'Hare International Airport, saying they are pushing the capacity to handle rising traffic.

O'Hare reclaimed its title as busiest airport in the world this year, outpacing Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport. O'Hare's flights have increased 3.3 percent through March, to 304,548, about 80 more flights per day than Atlanta.

"Our job has never been more difficult than it is today," Craig Burzych, president of the air traffic controllers union local at O'Hare tower, said Tuesday. "We're pushing the very edge now to get more and more planes in."

New runways, controllers say, could increase capacity at O'Hare by about 40 percent, making a proposed airport in rural Peotone unnecessary.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley said he is committed to unveiling by July 1 a plan to handle flight delays.

City officials expected the new Delay Task Force - which was formed Monday - to take six to nine months to do its work, but Daley said there is a sense of urgency to meeting the deadline set by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Springfield Democrat.

"I'll be listening to the mayors in the suburban area," Daley said. "We'll be listening to the business community and labor people, everyone involved with regard to O'Hare Field."

Last month, after two years of rising flight delays nationwide, two Iowa senators called for federal authorities to install two parallel runways at O'Hare, echoing past proposals considered by Chicago.

In previous years, partly at the request of Chicago officials, air traffic controllers usually stayed quiet about the issue.

But after the Iowa proposal emerged, John Carr, a former controller at O'Hare and the president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, joined the call for new runways, as Durbin did this week.

In response to a federal report that showed airline scheduling outpaces capacity 31/2 hours a day in good weather and eight hours a day in bad weather, the controllers will participate in the task force to study new runways and other ways to reduce delays.

A new runway could land 30 to 40 more planes an hour. In good weather, O'Hare can handle about 200 flights per hour, so two new runways could increase capacity by about 40 percent.

In bad weather, O'Hare loses use of a runway, falling to a maximum of 160 flights per hour, so two additional strips could expand capacity by about 50 percent..

O'Hare has seven runways -three pairs of parallel strips, plus a short north-south stretch that is rarely used.

Yet the number of runways alone does not determine capacity. Because O'Hare's runways point at each other, their use is limited, especially in bad weather.

When visibility is poor, pilots cannot see each other's planes, so they cannot use runways that converge. Instead, they are restricted to runways that run parallel to each other.

In bad weather, O'Hare drops from using three runways to two for arrivals.

Adding an east-west runway or two, on either side of the existing pair of east-west runways, would let controllers keep landing on three or four runways, even in bad weather.

Members of the Suburban O'Hare Commission oppose expanding O'Hare because of the noise and pollution more flights would bring and because about 500 homes would have to be demolished in Bensenville for to build a runway at the south end of the airport.

Commission members were unimpressed by the controllers' call for runways, seeing it as part of a hype campaign by airlines seeking new runways.

"Being the busiest (airport) is no claim to fame when you've got the congestion they have," said the commission's attorney, Joseph Karaganis. "The controllers are tied politically to Chicago. They basically say what Chicago wants them to."

However, the controllers part ways with the city on Daley's plans to close Meigs Field next year because they expect half of its 36,000 annual flights may come to O'Hare.

Controllers will meet next month with workers for Durbin and U.S. Rep. William Lipinski (news - bio - voting record), a Chicago Democrat, to make sure they have input on any reconfiguration of O'Hare.

It may take two years to implement recommendations from the Delay Task Force. New runways could take seven to 10 years to build.

Scott Lauck and Mary Ellen Moore of Medill News Service contributed to this report.

Runways: Suburban group calls plea politically motivated

[Chicago ATC News]