March 27, 2001

Chicago Sun-Times

O'Hare air traffic could be on rise

March 27, 2001


If the first two months of 2001 are any indication, O'Hare Airport could be in for a very busy year.

There were nearly 6,000 more takeoffs and landings in January and February than the same time last year, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

And because that jump corresponds with a decrease at Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport--which seized the "world's busiest airport" title from O'Hare two years ago--the Chicago airfield could reclaim the title, and set a record for flight volume, if things continue in the same direction.

But that's a big "if," city officials said, calling such talk premature.

"This is a short period of time, it's too soon to say that it's a trend or that it's going to hold," said Chicago Aviation Commissioner Thomas Walker.

Besides, he said, it's unclear if there were more scheduled flights in January and February over the prior year. It could be there were the same number of flights scheduled, but weather and other problems last year meant more cancellations. If that's true, the growth isn't "real growth," he said.

The city plans to study that issue as it examines the reasons behind the growth, Walker said.

"What we have not done yet is look at the last several years of scheduled operations, to see what the intent of the airlines is, and to see whether there is a likelihood that this will continue," he said. "That's what we're going to be looking at."

Storms and millennium-related fears may have dampened January 2000's numbers, officials said. Whether O'Hare's air traffic will continue to grow in 2001 will depend largely on the economy, Walker said, adding that an economic slowdown could curb many business trips.

But the coming phaseout of additional flight restrictions at O'Hare might add more operations, he acknowledged.

Even if there's a substantial jump, "We can certainly handle them," said Walker. "But it's just too short of a time period to look at this as any sort of dire prediction of an increase or acceleration. It would have to happen for several years before we relook at our projections or anything like that."

A forecast has O'Hare handling 930,635 takeoffs and landings this year. It saw nearly 909,000 in 2000, just shy of the all-time record of 909,595 in 1996. Hartsfield handled 915,657 flights in 2000, according to a trade group.

Joe Karaganis, attorney for the Suburban O'Hare Commission, which is fighting O'Hare noise and expansion and backs the construction of a third regional airport to alleviate delays and spur economic development, said more O'Hare operations will mean more noise, delays and safety concerns.

"The idea of literally stuffing flight after flight after flight . . . is foolhardy," he said.

The FAA this spring is expected to release capacity limits for O'Hare and other airports.

[Chicago ATC News]