April 18, 2001 Chicago Tribune

April 18, 2001

The mayor wasn't there Monday. Neither was the governor. That's OK. American Airlines really didn't need their presence at a local hotel to celebrate 75 years of service that began when Charles Lindbergh took off from Chicago's Maywood Air Mail Field headed for St. Louis on an April morn in 1926.

But they need to hear what American's Chairman and CEO Donald Carty said about the brewing crisis at O'Hare International Airport:

"There is probably no single thing that can be done for the country that would improve the air traffic control system as much as new runways at Chicago . . . Unfortunately, the city and the world's aviation system have simply outgrown O'Hare's current runway capacity--thus placing Chicago's aviation growth in jeopardy."

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley touts his $3.2 billion World Gateway Program, which will bring more gates, more terminals and more parking garages--everything but more runways--to O'Hare. Illinois Gov. George Ryan begins to buy land for a third airport at Peotone, as if transforming a patch of Will County farmland will alone solve the air capacity problem.

The two most powerful people in Illinois keep avoiding the one aviation topic that they absolutely must tackle--adding runways at O'Hare.

If that means a tradeoff--a new airport at Peotone--then get on it. Though major airlines have balked at that, Carty acknowledged that it might be necessary. If a compromise on Peotone is "what it will take . . . then it's time we break the political logjam and make a deal," he said.

Yes, it's time. Time for Chicago business leaders to bring more pressure on Ryan and Daley. Time for the governor and mayor to quit being fat and happy with the status quo while the Chicago region's economy gets put at risk.

Chicago's position as one of the premier aviation cities in the world is threatened by the stalemate. To be blunt: the status quo will not hold. Other airports--Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Cincinnati, and St. Louis among them--are adding capacity. Airlines, including American, are doing what they must to minimize the frustrating delays brought on by O'Hare's capacity crunch.

"Last year," said Carty, "we revamped American's schedule at O'Hare in an attempt to compensate for the airport's structural limitations." But, he added, delays persist. "If left unsolved, as demand for air travel grows in the years to come, the problem will become even more severe--leaving airlines and their customers little choice but to avoid O'Hare and Chicago altogether."

Did you hear that, boys? Avoid O'Hare and Chicago altogether.

As it turns out, American just bought itself an option--St. Louis-based TWA, which allows it to surpass United, at least for the moment, to become the world's largest airline.

Carty "explicitly and unequivocally" reaffirmed American's commitment to Chicago. He made that quite clear. But it is also clear St. Louis gives the carrier "another mid-continent hub."

That's what St. Louis and Dallas provide American. That's what Cincinnati provides Delta. That's what Denver provides United. Without forceful action, pretty soon that's how all these carriers might view O'Hare. Once the world's biggest airport, on its way to being another landing strip in the heartland.

[Chicago ATC News]