Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport is in the final stages of getting renovation plans approved by the Federal Aviation Association (FAA). According to Chicago’s Department of Aviation, the plans were submitted to the FAA earlier in 2017 with approval by many of O’Hare’s carriers. In a presentation on Friday, Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans released a nearly finalized expansion design to the Economic Club of Chicago that includes a major rearrangement of terminals and their specific roles in the airport.

The centerpiece of this new design is the creation of a new “Global Terminal”, to house United and American Airlines’ international operations. Terminal 2, an older section of the airport that serves regional operations for United and mainline Delta flights will be completely torn down, section by section, to be converted into a new international terminal. While the details regarding gate assignments have not yet been finalized, it is likely that United and American will remain at their current terminals (1 and 3), and will add on new gates in the new Global Terminal. This will allow the airlines to share the customs services in the terminal and give their passengers a better experience by eliminating the inter-terminal transfers that arriving international passengers are subject to currently.

Credits: Chicago Department of Aviation

Terminal 5 is also expected to receive nine new gates, and will be converted to a mixed domestic/international terminal. Terminal 5 will house Alaska, Spirit, JetBlue and Delta’s operations, in addition to other international airlines as it does currently. This will allow American to completely take over Concourse L for their regional and mainline operations, which is currently split between them and low-cost airlines; low-cost airlines will get new gates in the current international terminal.

The largest beneficiary of the O’Hare expansion looks to be United Airlines and Terminal 1, which will be receiving an extension to its midfield concourse, currently named Concourse C. This expansion would allow Concourse C to function as Star Alliance’s global hub at Chicago O’Hare, with most, if not all of United’s Star Alliance partners moving their operations to Terminal 1. American’s Oneworld partners would most likely move to Terminal 3 as well, however, there is no expansion to Terminal 3 planned.

Chicago O’Hare’s expansion is long overdue; it’s been 23 years since ORD has received additional gates. Only this year, ten years after the last major recession, has the airport seen more activity than 2007, and as a result of its inability to grow, Chicago O’Hare lost its title of the world’s busiest airport. Despite the $5.5 billion upgrade to its runways to accommodate larger aircraft and a higher frequency, the airport has lost much international attraction. Evans said that O’Hare cut investing in international markets and has seen a decline while other major hubs like San Francisco and New York have dedicated large sums towards modernizing their airports.

O’Hare on pace to grow 3% each year at the pace of current construction, with the airport looking once more to international markets to fuel its growth. Bahamasair is beginning flights to Nassau this November, while American Airlines, LOT Polish Airlines and Norwegian Air Shuttle are beginning flights to Venice (Italy), Budapest (Hungary) and London Gatwick next spring.

Featured image by Nicola via Wikimedia Commons.

Categories: Industry Talk