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LaHood: O'Hare talks with Daley, United and American are "very, very extensive"

WASHINGTON — Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Wednesday the “game plan” is to keep Mayor Daley and the CEOs of American and United Airlines talking until some kind of deal to break a deadlock over O’Hare Airport expansion is reached.

No progress was made so far between the parties after a “very, very extensive” Wednesday morning session at LaHood’s Transportation Department office. Potential for a deal was still in play, however, a source told the Sun-Times.

WASHINGTON — Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Wednesday the “game plan” is to keep Mayor Daley and the CEOs of American and United Airlines talking until some kind of deal to break a deadlock over O’Hare Airport expansion is reached.

No progress was made so far between the parties after a “very, very extensive” Wednesday morning session at LaHood’s Transportation Department office. Potential for a deal was still in play, however, a source told the Sun-Times.

LaHood was asked by the Sun-Times about the status of his talks with Daley and the CEOs of the two dominant airlines at O’Hare — United Airline’s Jeff Smisek and American Airline’s Gerar Arpey — during a briefing with reporters on transportation issues. LaHood said the O’Hare talks had been in progress for at least two hours and were continuing even as he left the meeting.

“The Department of Transportation has made a huge investment in O’Hare modernization, almost $1 billion dollars,” LaHood said. “And so I thought it was important that I ask the CEOs of United and American, along with Mayor Daley to come to my office. We had a very, very extensive discussion and those discussions are going on right now.”

Asked if he could figure out a solution, LaHood said, “That’s the game plan.”

At issue is a serious dispute between the City of Chicago and American and United over a deal to build new runways at O’Hare that at one time — when air traffic was much higher — the airlines eagerly sought and were willing to help pay 60 percent of the costs. More recently, with business down, the airlines filed a lawsuit trying to block the city from going ahead with the expansion project without the approval of the airlines.

The Illinois senators, Democrat Dick Durbin and Republican Mark Kirk have been long-time backers of O’Hare expansion, with Kirk supporting the project when he was a House member. On Jan. 27, Durbin and Kirk met with Smisek and Arpey to “discuss the potential for a compromise between the airlines and the City of Chicago.”