December 11, 2000 Chicago Tribune


Jon Hilkevitch
December 11, 2000

An experimental air-traffic procedure that the Federal Aviation Administration says will be expanded soon at O'Hare International Airport to improve efficiency and reduce delays is like adding a lane at a congested tollway plaza.

But critics of the FAA's plan to resume the "piggybacking" of aircraft approaching O'Hare contend that pancakes--not passenger planes--are meant to be stacked on top of each other.

A public hearing on the proposed changes, which would also have an impact on flights into Midway Airport, Milwaukee's Mitchell Field, the Gary-Chicago Airport and about a dozen general aviation airports in the region, will be held Dec. 18.

Implementation of the procedure has been delayed in the last several years because of concerns by air-traffic controllers over safety and increased workload, and objections by suburban groups who view the program as a ploy to expand O'Hare's capacity and cram more planes into the airport.

A key component of the airspace project involves expanding the single-lane arrival routes into O'Hare into two separate air lanes starting about 65 miles out from the airport.

The lanes would be separated 1,000 feet vertically--in a piggyback formation--and aircraft would merge back into one lane as they fly closer to the airport to land.

Planes arrive at O'Hare through four single-file entrance lanes, called cornerposts, that form a rectangle over the Chicago area.

FAA officials added that the procedure not only compresses the arrival stream of jets, but enhances safety by reducing the need for pilots to make S-shaped turns and frequent speed changes when stuck in traffic.

Critics charge the procedure is too risky and will lead to accidents. They say the FAA plan bolsters their contention that what the region really needs is construction of another airport.

Expanded testing of the experimental procedure is tentatively scheduled to begin next year. The FAA will conduct an informational workshop and hold a public hearing from 5 to 8 p.m. Dec. 18 to consider the environmental impact of the proposed airspace changes. The event will be held at the FAA's offices at 2300 E. Devon Ave., Des Plaines. People who want to testify should call Annette Davis at 847-294-8091 to reserve a time to testify. The first half-hour of each hour will consist of pre-reserved testimony.

Written comments will be accepted through Jan. 12 and should be addressed to Annette Davis, FAA Air Traffic Division, 2300 E. Devon Ave., Des Plaines, IL 60018.

New transit, airport Web sites: A new transit map that incorporates Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and Pace routes has been posted online. Users of the six-county map, produced by the Regional Transportation Authority, can zoom in to an area of about 8 square blocks to locate transit service options and print the map to take along on their commutes.

The map can be found at Click on "site map" and under the heading "riders services" click on "system map."

The site also contains separate maps for the Loop, Chicago and nearby suburbs, as well as links to specific scheduling information on the CTA, Metra, Pace and the South Shore Line trains running from the Metra Electric station downtown to South Bend, Ind.

Individuals who prefer a paper copy of the latest RTA system map can call the RTA at 836-7000 (all area codes in the Chicago area).

RTA Executive Director Richard Bacigalupo said by the end of the month, the online map will be expanded to include a trip-planning function. Commuters can type in their points of origination and destination and the time of day and the computer program will map an itinerary.

The Chicago Department of Aviation has also revamped its Web sites to provide airline passengers with improved maps of airport terminals, information about parking rates and ground transportation and real-time weather reports. The new Web site can be reached on the Internet through a variety of addresses:, and

Yule be delayed? After a smooth Thanksgiving travel week at Chicago's airports, the next question is whether the Delay Grinch will steal Christmas and Hanukkah, which overlap this year. During last year's winter holiday, Dec. 23 was a mess at O'Hare International Airport, where 20 percent of all flights reached their destination more than one hour late, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The other bad-delay days in 1999 were Dec. 20, when 16.4 percent of O'Hare flights arrived more than 60 minutes late; Dec. 22, 7 percent; and Dec. 27, 4.4 percent. On Christmas Eve of 1999, only 1.7 percent of flights departing O'Hare arrived more than an hour late. Dec. 26 wasn't bad with only 2 percent in that category. The bureau did not provide data for Midway Airport.

At the nation's 29 most heavily traveled airports last year, Dec. 23 had the highest rate (7.6 percent) of arrival delays exceeding an hour.

Airline passengers can take the information with a grain of coal, and an eye to weather conditions, as they plan their holiday trips this year. Travelers who want to play the odds can find more information on-line at