Emanuel strikes deal with American Airlines for new O’Hare gates

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Just days after announcing a $1.3 billion deal to build a new runway at O’Hare Airport, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has struck a deal with American Airlines, which will build five new gates.

It’s the missing piece to the puzzle for the massive new runway —which, at 11,245 feet long and 200 feet wide, will become O’Hare’s second-biggest.

American Airlines will pick up the cost of the project to add the gates to Terminal 3 by 2018; that will increase capacity and help the airport’s on-time performance, the mayor’s office is set to announce Saturday.

“These new gates, in addition to the airfield improvements announced already, signify a major investment American is making in our customers and employees at O’Hare. Growing our footprint will allow us to grow our operation and better serve the Chicago community,” Michael Minerva, American Airlines vice president for government and airport affairs, said in a statement.

American Airlines says it now has 66 gates at Terminal 3, which handles both domestic and international flights for American. International departures go out of Terminal 3 and arrive at Terminal 5, where U.S. Customs and Border Protections is located.

The five new gates will be added to Terminal 3’s Concourse L, a spokeswoman said.

American estimated the project cost at $55 million to $75 million.

Total gates at O’Hare will grow to 195 — the first major expansion of gate capacity at O’Hare since 1993. It’s also the first major domestic gate expansion since Terminal 1 was built in 1987.

Emanuel last week announced the new runway agreement involving the city, the Federal Aviation Administration, United Airlines, American Airlines and Illinois’ two U.S. senators, Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk. The deal also calls for de-icing pads, a new crossfield taxiway system and other airfield projects.

Work on the runway should begin in May and airlines will be using it by 2020. The Emanuel administration says the work will create more than 5,000 construction and professional services jobs.

In announcing the runway, Emanuel said he’d employ a hiring strategy modeled on the rebuilding of the south leg of the CTA’s Red Line. That project created 400 part-time bus operator jobs, 85 construction jobs and a database of 4,000 skilled workers.

But what about the noise? Emanuel aides say the city will “ensure” sound insulation for all homes and schools before the runway opens.

But Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) wonders why Emanuel didn’t mention the runway deal as he met with the anti-noise group FairAllocation In Runways just two days before the deal was announced.

During the meeting, the mayor ruled out saving two diagonal runways slated for demolition that FAIR wants the city to keep and use at night and during off-peak hours to soften the blow of dramatic O’Hare flight-path changes that hit in October 2013.

Up to 63,000 Chicago area residents a month have complained about the new barrage of noise since the flight path changes, FAIR contends.

Napolitano said the city projected 1.2 million landings at O’Hare last year but reached only 900,000. Still, there were 700,000 noise complaints.

Napolitano has introduced an ordinance to require Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans to seek City Council approval of any O’Hare construction or runway changes. So far, eight other aldermen have signed on.

The city plans to talk with every airline at O’Hare about new gates and terminal expansion, the mayor’s office says.

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