The Chicago Way: O'Hare Airport's over-built expansion produces fewer flights

What? Wait a minute. The vaunted, costly expansion of O’Hare International Airport was supposed to double its capacity, to more than 1.6 million flights annually.

That was Mayor Richard M. Daley’s promise when in 2001 he unveiled what was the most costly public works project in the city’s history–the total reconfiguration of the airport’s runways at a cost of (it kept changing) billions of taxpayers’ and flyers dollars.

Okay, more runways, more capacity, but what has it accomplished? Are there more flights at O’Hare since Daley’s promise? Or is all that promised capacity sitting there, unused and idle?

In fact, the number of flights using O’Hare has not increased. In more astonishing fact, the number of flights has declined.

Don’t take my word for it; I’ve been a skeptic about what the promised $16-billion-plus expansion of O’Hare would accomplish. Take the Chicago Department of Aviation’s word:

According to the department, citing Federal Aviation screen-shot-2019-05-04-at-12-52-37-pmAdministration figures, in 2001 when Daley promised nirvana, O’Hare accommodated 911,861 flights. In 2004, before the new runways were installed, the number of flights peaked at 992,471.

From there it was downhill, over the cliff, you might say. The number of flights took a straight line plunge to 827,889 in 2009–before the Great Recession. It recovered slightly in 2010, to 862,617 flights.

And it has remained in that dismal range ever since, according

One of O'Hare Airport's new runways. (Chicago Aviation Dept.)

One of O’Hare Airport’s new runways. Are the weeds coming? (Chicago Aviation Dept.)

to the latest figures reported in January, 2018. In brief, it has remained somewhere near 50,000 fewer flights 15 years after Daley announced the expansion, called the O’Hare Improvement Program.

Yet, the expansion continues. That’s because what’s important is not how well the airport serves passengers’ and shippers’ needs, but how many contracts and jobs the expansion coughs up for the favored insiders.

This, of course, is another story that the Chicago media will ignore. 

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    I remember well all the hype. Daley and his allies predicted the O'Hare Modernization Program would create up to 195,000 new jobs, and add $18 billion to the region's economy without using local or state taxpayer dollars. The Daily Herald followed it for a few years and found the new jobs were just a few thousand.

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