Chicago’s O’Hare Airport this month finished its latest new runway project — the latest step in a multi-billion-dollar, years-long capital improvements program — but runway construction may not be enough to erase the airport’s reputation as a delay-prone bottleneck in the nation’s air transportation system.
Reporters at The Chicago Tribune dug into the O’Hare situation, and they concluded that several other problems must be dealt with if the airport is to function more efficiently for airlines and passengers.
Among their recommendations:
The number of gates at O’Hare is not keeping pace with airfield improvements. The number of flights arriving late to the gate at O’Hare more than tripled in the past five years, the newspaper said, and part of the problem is simply that there are not enough gates to accommodate the arriving aircraft after they land. It quoted the city’s aviation commissioner as saying that if 24 new gates suddenly materialized at O’Hare, they would instantly be fully utilized. The airport is currently working on plans to add 12 new gates by 2018.
Taxi times — the time between landing and arrival at the gate — have to be reduced. As new runways are built farther away from the terminals, this has become a problem, the newspaper said. The average taxi-in time increased from 8.5 minutes in 2007 to 13 minutes this year, but the FAA says it expects that to be cut to 11 minutes per plane now that the new runway is operational.
The Federal Aviation Administration needs to speed up its long-promised NextGen air traffic system, which will allow a larger number of flights to operate safely in the air corridors in and out of O’Hare — and airlines need to be more realistic in the number of arrivals they schedule at the airport. O’Hare is the largest U.S. airport that serves as a major hub for two giant carriers — United and American — both of which funnel hundreds of flights into the airport to maximize possible connections. Officials said they hope the next two runways on the construction schedule will help reduce air traffic control-related delays.
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