Below is an article I just read on the Chicago Tribune's webiste. Flying in and out of O'Hare quite often, this doesn't surprise me, esp the part about the traveller who spent an hr delayed on the taxiway. Twice in the past three months I've spent at least 45min on the ground on an aircraft waiting to get to a gate. Does this article come to a surprise to anyone else? Perhaps an argument for a third airport (I know a third airport for Chicago has been discussed here a few times). Here's the article:
By Jon Hilkevitch, Tribune transportation reporter. Tribune staff reporter Manya Brachear contributed to this report
Published January 8, 2004
As many as seven out of every 10 planes are arriving late during peak hours at O'Hare International Airport, according to the newest federal data issued Wednesday, placing O'Hare dead last in on-time performance among the 31 busiest U.S. airports.
The November figures were the worst at O'Hare during 2003, and experts predict the congestion problems will only grow in 2004. With new runways years away, aviation authorities say the airlines must spread out flights now concentrated in late afternoon and evening to avert pre-9/11 gridlock.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) sent a letter Wednesday to the U.S. transportation secretary urging temporary suspension of anti-trust provisions that prohibit airlines from discussing flight scheduling with each other. Durbin warned that the overscheduling problems at O'Hare could cause major disruptions to the entire commercial aviation system this year.
"If you're a business traveler, you don't have a lot of options," departing O'Hare passenger Randy Luther said Wednesday night. He said his flight to Chicago on Tuesday was delayed for an hour on a taxiway in Dallas because too many planes were trying to get to O'Hare.
Between 6 and 8 p.m. most days in November, up to 70 percent of flights arrived late at O'Hare, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation report.
O'Hare ranked last--with an overall 57 percent on-time arrival rate in November--among the major airports, the report said. In November 2002, 82 percent of O'Hare flights arrived on time, putting the airport in 27th place.
United Airlines and American Airlines have refused to stop overscheduling flights for fear of losing passengers to competitors. Both airlines have added flights since October, at times overwhelming the airport's capacity and creating the worst flight delays since the late 1990s.
"United and American are still locked in a battle for market share, but they are building back their schedules in a way that is adding to delays," said Joseph Schwieterman, an airline expert at DePaul University. "The expansion of small-jet schedules, in particular, is putting an enormous burden on the airport."
Chicago aviation officials said the increase in congestion at O'Hare is the envy of other airports, a sign that United is coming out of bankruptcy strongly and proof that Mayor Richard Daley's airfield expansion plan must proceed quickly.
"It's a good problem to have from our point of view," said Aviation Commissioner Thomas Walker. "The delay rankings show that other airports are doing less business, so of course their on-time departures and arrivals are better."
But Durbin doesn't share the enthusiasm over delays. His letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta called for the easing of rules that prohibit airlines from coordinating their flight schedules, a ban aimed at protecting consumers.
Legislation passed in December to fund the Federal Aviation Administration expands the government's authority to call airlines together, with FAA oversight, to discuss measures to reduce delays.
United and American control more than 80 percent of the approximately 2,850 daily flights at O'Hare, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation.
"If you put United and American together, they would be able to voluntarily, with the help of the FAA and the transportation secretary, immediately alleviate the operational delays," said a congressional source.
Airlines reconsider schedules
United would participate in such talks, but the airline prefers other methods to reduce delays, said Peter McDonald, the company's executive vice president of operations.
In United's February schedule, which will be announced soon, the airline will "aggressively take flights out of periods that have a higher number of flights at O'Hare and move them to less busy periods throughout the day," McDonald said.
The strategy has been used successfully by American at O'Hare and Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport. United had resisted spreading out its O'Hare arrivals and departures in the past, but its new plan indicates the level of delay has now become intolerable economically.
"Adding more flights into congested periods now or in the future is not going to help matters," McDonald said. "This is a problem that United wants to be part of the solution."
American spokeswoman Mary Frances Fagan said the Dallas-based carrier is "working hard to mitigate the impact of congestion at O'Hare, but we are also responding to the public demand for air service in the aftermath of 9/11."
FAA officials warned that the latest delay numbers are cause for serious concern.
"Weather and peak scheduling throughout the day, which leaves no room for schedule recovery, make for a bad combination and traveler inconvenience," said FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro.
A tripling of the number of smaller jets at O'Hare in the last few years has fueled the explosion in flights, which could reach 1 million this year for the first time, according to internal FAA projections. O'Hare handled a record 931,422 takeoffs and landings in 2003.
120 arrivals an hour
In good weather, O'Hare can safely accommodate 100 arrivals an hour, according to the FAA. But the airlines routinely schedule up to 120 arrivals an hour during peak periods in which they bring in banks of planes to transfer passengers to connecting flights.
"United, American and the City of Chicago are going to need to show leadership to avoid a congestion crisis," Schwieterman said.
O'Hare finished in 30th place, just ahead of Newark-Liberty International Airport, with a 77 percent on-time arrival rate for the first 11 months of 2003, down from 80 percent and 25th place for January through November 2002.
In addition, 49 of the 59 regularly scheduled flights that were chronically late in the U.S. last November involved O'Hare, the new data show. Most of those flights arrived late at least 80 percent of the time.
Seventy-nine percent of flights arrived on time at Midway Airport last November, putting it in 23rd place. For the first 11 months of 2003, Midway ranked 13th with an 83 percent on-time arrival rate.
Copyright © 2004, Chicago Tribune