Emanuel, American Airlines Reach Deal Over $8.5B O’Hare Expansion Plan

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and American Airlines announced Thursday that they had reached an agreement to win the airline's approval of an $8.5 billion overhaul of O'Hare International Airport.

American had originally opposed the expansion plan, unveiled in March, alleging that the proposal contained a "secret provision, inserted at the last minute" that would give additional gates to United Airlines.

American said in a statement after the initial plan was announced that it would be unable to sign the lease, requesting the construction of three additional American gates.

But the deal announced Thursday contains the same number of gates assigned to each airline, with a commitment from the city to expedite construction of three "common use gates" for all carriers to use, Emanuel's office said in a statement.

"This agreement is a watershed moment for Chicago, and it means we will create tens of thousands of jobs for Chicagoans from every part of the city, generate billions of dollars in economic development and strengthen our city's economy for generations," Emanuel said in a statement.

The proposed plan would be the airport's first major capital improvement in more than 25 years, and its largest ever.

If approved, Terminal 2, which is 55 years old, would be torn down to make way for the new "O’Hare Global Terminal" that would streamline customs and immigration processing, according to Emanuel. It would also allow for wider concourses and gates to accommodate larger planes on international flights.

Terminals 1 and 3 would also undergo renovations, officials said, with an upgrade and expansion planned for Terminal 5. In total, the proposal would increase gate capacity by 25 percent and increase terminal square footage from 5.5 to 8.9 million square feet, according to the City.

The plan also includes improvements to security screening in an effort to reduce wait times, three new baggage systems as well as new self-service technologies to make the check-in process faster and easier, Emanuel said.

The deal comes as the airlines near the end of a 35-year lease in May. Emanuel sought to leverage that expiration to obtain higher fees from carriers that would in turn finance the project, paying for the construction without using tax dollars.

In all, the expansion is projected to take 8 years and would create 60,000 construction jobs, the City said.

Despite more than two weeks of public disapproval, American said in a statement Thursday that the plan will "allow American Airlines to continue to invest and grow in the city of Chicago."

"We are strongly supportive of this agreement because it is what is best for the city of Chicago, our 9,300 Chicago team members and our customers," American CEO Doug Parker said. "We look forward to growing at O’Hare in the years to come."

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