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Thu, May 17, 2007

FAA Predicts Looming Capacity Problems At MDW

O'Hare Expansion Plans "Vital" To Nat'l Aerospace System

A new report released Tuesday by the Federal Aviation Administration placed Chicago's Midway Airport on a 'watch list' of US airports that are gradually losing the ability to add more flights.

The airport is expected to reach capacity between 2015 and 2025 as it increases in popularity among travelers attracted to Midway's ample choice of low-cost carriers, according to the Chicago Tribune.

This imminent crisis means severe flight delays would be the norm at MDW, as is now the case on many days at O'Hare International Airport. O'Hare is already at the bottom of the list of US Airports for less-than-punctual operations.

"Midway will benefit somewhat from the next-generation air-traffic control system and all kinds of new avionics, but clearly we know that a lot more cannot be done and some choices will have to be made," a high-ranking FAA official in Washington told the Tribune.

The FAA assessment did not come out and say the Chicago area needed additional aviation capacity now, but, rather, predicted what would be needed in the future. It concluded Chicago's effort to expand O'Hare are "vital" to serving the needs of the national airspace system over the next 20 years.

Chicago's plans to build new runways at O'Hare "may help offset some of the additional activity forecast for Midway," the FAA report said. "But additional solutions may be needed as well, including a new airport that is now being considered" in Will County near Peotone, the report said

Chicago's $15 billion O'Hare expansion -- which is currently over-budget and behind schedule -- was assumed by the report to be completed by 2013 on the original schedule. The expansion's first new runway isn't even scheduled to open until late 2008 and officials offer no completion timeline for the partially-paid project.

The FAA report also presumes Chicago Rockford International Airport and Gary-Chicago International Airport would be the secondary commercial passenger airports in the Chicago region, as well as Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee, over the next several decades. But, there are no airlines currently providing regular service to Gary, and Rockford only has a couple of flights a day with a bit of charter service thrown in for good measure.

In 2006, MDW served an average of 51,694 passengers a day. This is an increase from its 2000 numbers of 42,822 passengers, while the number of daily takeoffs and landings remained stable during that period at about 800 flights, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation.

"By 2025, cities like Atlanta, Las Vegas, Chicago and San Diego are going to have to risk the lost revenue, lost business and lost appeal that comes with chronic airport delays or they're going to have to consider building new airports," US Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said in Washington.

Houston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Phoenix also were included in the list of cities that must begin planning for increasing numbers of air travelers, Peters said.

As ANN reported, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is also on that list. Peters told community leaders in Atlanta they should strongly consider a second airport and even put up $1 million for the study.

FMI: www.chicago-mdw.com

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