The Chicago City Council on Wednesday approved a massive package to restore O'Hare to its former glory as the busiest airport in the world:
With legal approvals in hand and O'Hare's tenant airlines scheduled to formally sign new lease deals later today, the path appears clear to implementing a plan that, if all goes as scheduled, will add 3 million square feet of terminal space and 30 to 35 additional gates for planes to load passengers, up from 185 now, by 2026.
City aviation officials say doing so will attract an additional 20 million passengers a year to O'Hare (up a quarter from today), many of them arriving on lucrative international flights, an area in which O'Hare has fallen behind competitors such as Los Angeles International and Atlanta's Hartsfield. And if those targets are reached, the plan sets the stage for further terminals in the future.
With American Airlines having dropped its earlier opposition to the deal, the last potential obstacle melted away when African-American and Latino aldermen agreed to set up a working group, or commission, that will regularly monitor activity and report back to aldermen on whether minority businesses and workers are receiving an adequate piece of construction and related legal and financial contracts.
The gate expansion follows a decade in which O'Hare added or lengthened several runways and converted many of them from a diagonal configuration to six east-west parallel runways. Most of that work already has been completed, with more expected soon.
O'Hare's mostly-complete runway project vastly increased the number of operations (takeoffs and landings) the airport could handle, well beyond the capacity of the terminals. The new terminals and gates should alleviate that.
Passengers will also finally have the ability to change from international arrivals to domestic departures without collecting their luggage, which right now makes O'Hare a real pain in the ass for inbound international travelers.