O’Hare revamp negotiations near completion

Despite being served by a vast number of regional and low-fare airlines and known as one of the world’s busiest airports, Chicago O’Hare International Airport is often described as ‘outdated’ and has a reputation for gridlocked traffic. But the airport, which has a terminal dedicated to regional and low-fare carriers including Lot, Spirit, Volaris, Viva aerobus, Wow and WestJet, may soon be vaulted into the 21st century with state-of-the-art remodelling plans (estimated at US$8.5bn) in the final stages of negotiation.

The renovation project would be the single largest and most expensive terminal revamp in the airport’s 73-year history. It has been described by Chicago Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, as “not just a game changer for O’Hare”, but “a turning point for Chicago,” that will create a vast number of jobs while strengthening the city’s position as a leader in travel, tourism and trade.

As well as growing O’Hare’s sluggish number of international flights the renovations will help create more room for its domestic carriers with more than 3.1 million square feet of terminal space added – an impressive 72% increase on the existing 4.3 million square feet.

Renovation plans include dozens of new gates and two new passenger concourses for domestic traffic, which will be linked to the main terminals by underground tunnels and moving walkways. Terminal 2 will be replaced with a new ‘Global Terminal’ to accommodate larger aircraft serving international destinations.

However news of the revamp has ignited a spat between the Texas-based American Airlines and Chicago-based United Airlines, with the former claiming that the renovation plans are favourable to United, with additional gates being allocated to them in the new terminal.

The battle between the two carriers could jeopardise the deal, as Chicago plans to issue up to US$4 billion in bonds backed by the airport’s revenue, such as terminal rents and landing fees, to pay for the capital improvements at the hub’s terminals.

The goal to overhaul the airport without raising taxes is underlined by the importance of getting buy-ins from both United and American, which could be an issue of the airlines don’t agree on the gate allocation.

Header picture: Terminal 3, Chicago O’Hare Airport – © Chicago Dept. of Aviation

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