April 24, 2001

Chicago Sun-Times

FAA hopes to boost O'Hare's capacity

April 24, 2001


WASHINGTON--A study to be released Wednesday will state that O'Hare Airport is running near capacity, and the Federal Aviation Administration is working on technological and air traffic improvements to boost capacity, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

The increase in capacity would be between 5 percent and 10 percent in the next 10 years.

The FAA's proposed fixes are designed to squeeze more flights out of O'Hare, a hub airport running so close to capacity that it is a major contributor to the nation's record air traffic delays and flight cancellations.

The long-awaited federal benchmark report does not call for the construction of new runways.

It is being released as Iowa Senators Charles E. Grassley, a Republican, and Tom Harkin, a Democrat, are pushing the government to build two new runways at O'Hare and strip Gov. Ryan of his power to veto expansion plans.

A related FAA report, which highlights ways to increase airport capacity and "manage" delays, includes these recommendations:

* Reducing the vertical separation of aircraft to get more planes in usable airspace.

* By 2006, improving capability of landing and departing in situations where weather is deteriorating, achieved in part by improving satellite navigation services.

* Closer spacing of arrivals.

* Re-evaluating scheduling practices.

Meanwhile, the FAA benchmark study found that in the best-case scenario--blue skies, no weather or air traffic control problems--O'Hare can handle 200 to 202 operations per hour. In poor weather, it can handle 157 to 160 operations an hour.

With FAA improvements, O'Hare capacity could increase to about 212 to 214 operations an hour under optimal conditions and 172 to 175 in poor conditions.

Ryan gave a cool reception Monday to the proposal by Grassley and Harkin to have the federal government, rather than city and state officials, determine the future of O'Hare. Ryan called Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.), an O'Hare expansion foe and Ryan critic, to discuss the plan.

"The governor believes that there is a question here of states having the right to respond to local concerns and local issues without having the federal government swoop in and usurp that right," said Ryan spokesman Dennis Culloton.

The Iowa proposal also would trump Mayor Daley, who wants O'Hare to expand but has no immediate plans to request two new runways.

[Chicago ATC News]