Airlines pull a "Daley" on Daley over O'Hare expansion

daley huh.jpg

Mayor Richard Daley, flanked by CTA President Richard Rodriguez, left, and Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Thomas Byrne, on Thursday defends the city's response to the storm at a news conference. At the same time, Daley expressed a fear that the airlines are trying to put him into a holding pattern on O'Hare expansion until he leaves office in May (Abel Uribe, Chicago Tribune / February 3, 2011)

How does it feel, Mayor Richard M. Daley? You've been stiffed by United and American, the airline duopoly at your precious O'Hare International Airport.

Here you've been waiting for them to sit down and "reason" with you about their opposition to your headlong rush to enter Phase 2 of your extravagant and costly expansion of O'Hare. Maybe you could talk them into (or threaten them into) dropping the suit they filed last month to oppose the $1 billion in bonds for airport expansion because they (not the city) would be obligated to pay them off.

But now the airlines, claiming that they couldn't meet with you because of the blizzard (you, of course, recognize the flimsiness of their excuse), called off their scheduled meeting and ignored your requests for another meeting--even on Sunday (the first time in your mayorship that you've offered to meet on Sunday).

You probably can figure out that some folks now are sitting on the sidelines, cheering, "Serves you right, pfffft." Those would be the opponents of the expansion, who for years had been offering to meet with you to work out a compromise, or some sort of solution. You visited them once, years and years ago, and promised to get back to them with some kind of response.

But you never did. Despite repeated offers by expansion opponents to meet again. You offered them no choice. You're classic "Go to Hell" response, took any compromise off the table. You gave them only two options: shut up and go away, or fight you in court.

Mayor, you could have avoided all those "costly" court battles that you and your toady aviation commissioner, Rosemarie S. Andolino, kept using as an excuse for all those crushing cost overruns and major project delays. Truth is, what's playing out here is the exact scenario that expansion opponents, advised by some of the nation's top aviation experts, warned what would happen.

Among their points, was the fact that landing fees already were a disincentive for airlines doing more business at O'Hare. Now that the airlines are fighting further expansion, they're saying exactly the same thing: The additional cost of financing those bonds and the resulting higher landing fees that the city will have to charge the airlines for using those runways, will price them right out of the Chicago market.

You're turn to go begging, Mr. Mayor. As you watch the airlines threaten to take their hub business to St. Louis, Denver and even farther away. I'm sure that you might work something out between now and when you leave office in May. But at what damage to the city, region and state?

Years ago, Dennis Byrne consulted for airline opponents, and closely studied the massive problems of O'Hare expansion.

 

 

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    Chicago Tribune contributing op-ed columnist and author of forthcoming historical novel, "Madness: The War of 1812." Reporter, editor and columnist for Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Daily News. Freelance writer and editor.

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