CHICAGO (CBS) — Mayor Rahm Emanuel is shrugging off comments from United Airlines’ top executive that there’s no demand for the expansion of O’Hare International Airport right now.
WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports United Continental Holdings CEO Jeff Smisek said O’Hare has plenty of capacity, and there’s no need to push for expansion right now, or for a third regional airport near Peotone.
He said the current expansion work is sufficient for the foreseeable future, and the industry should instead focus on modernizing air traffic control systems with GPS technology, rather than ground-based radar.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports
“The project we have under way now is more than sufficient for any reasonable demand we might expect in the near future,” Smisek said.
Emanuel, who wants to begin construction on a new phase of O’Hare runway expansion, seemed unfazed on Thursday.
“Well, that’s batting 50 percent, because I agree with him about Peotone,” Emanuel said.
When pressed by reporters, Emanuel added, “Because he says ‘we don’t need it now,’ doesn’t mean we won’t need it in the future. He’s making a comment about now. He’s making an observation. But we will get it done … and the process to starting will happen.”
Still, airline traffic is decreasing now, with flights at O’Hare down 11 percent since the expansion started. Consolidations, like the United-Continental merger, and the possible takeover of bankrupt American only reduce the number of flights.
“This complicates the landscape for the city. The city wants to create the impression this project’s inevitable, and these comments hurt that effort,” DePaul University aviation expert Joe Schweiterman tells CBS 2’s Derrick Blakley.
Emanuel said he understands Smisek has a responsibility to the airline, but the mayor is responsible for the city, which needs a modern O’Hare.