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Thu, Jan 22, 2004

Chicago's Growing Pains Causes Congestion And Expansion Issues

Report Says Chicago Skies Too Crowded For O'Hare Growth

A new report by a former FAA official indicates Chicago's plan to expand O'Hare Airport would turn O'Hare into a "truly frightening airport" due to congested airspace and other problems. City officials disputed the new report announced by Sen. Peter G. Fitzgerald (R-Ill.) on Monday.

In the report, which was commissioned by expansion opponents, Fitzgerald said it indicates the danger, disruption, and air and land congestion the expansion would cause is not worth the minimum 400,000 new landings it would add to the world's busiest airport. He also charged that a new analysis by Joseph Del Balzo of JDA Aviation Technology indicates the city ignored the expansion's impact on airspace congestion, and used other flawed assumptions in crafting its O'Hare Modernization Program. The new report was commissioned by the mayors of Bensenville and Elk Grove Village.

"Chicago's airspace is already the most congested in the nation. The city's consultants simply ignored this," Fitzgerald said at a news conference Monday. "It's possible to add more runways but you can't add more airspace."

Del Balzo's report charged that the city did not consider flights from Midway, Milwaukee, DuPage County and other surrounding airports that overlap the air routes of planes from O'Hare, already the worst-delayed airport in the nation. It called this a "glaring deficiency." At Monday's news conference, Del Balzo said the city's plan would turn the skies above O'Hare into "an accident waiting to happen."

Two other FAA officials, David Hinton and Jonathan Howe, were so troubled by Del Balzo's report that they have volunteered their own time to guide further analysis, Del Balzo said. However, Rosemarie Andolino, executive director of the O'Hare Modernization Plan, said airspace comments by the FAA cited in Del Balzo's report were made in response to the city's original plan. That plan has since been revised and has not triggered any FAA concerns about air congestion, Andolino said.

The city has run every simulation requested by the FAA and "Our plan took into account FAA industry standards," Andolino said. "I'm confident they know how to operate an airport effectively and would give us the correct modeling."

Del Balzo's report also charged that the city overestimated the percent of excellent weather conditions under which pilots and air traffic controllers normally operate at O'Hare. It said the city assumed that planes would hold 13 more passengers per plane than they currently average, and ignored increased taxiing time of three minutes per plane that the new runway configuration would cause.

Fitzgerald said several roadways -- the Kennedy Expy., the Northwest Tollway -- and O'Hare Airport terminals would have to be expanded to handle the new passengers filing into O'Hare, raising the total bill to $15 billion to add "a puny 400,000 more passengers" a year to O'Hare. Any road changes required by the plan must be addressed by the state, not the city, Andolino said. But the runway upgrades are necessary to enhance O'Hare's efficiency and maintain its standing as an economic engine for the Chicago area, she said.

"If we had a modern airfield, we wouldn't have the problems we have today," Andolino said.

FMI:  www.ohare.com

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