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FAA Lifts Chicago/O'Hare's Flight Caps This Fall

Finally, after years of planning, the FAA has decided to lift its limit on the number of flights at Chicago/O'Hare airport when a new runway opens this fall. Does this mean we'll see a flood of new flights at the airport? I think not.

O'Hare is in the middle of its massive "O'Hare Modernization Program." The airport will go from three distinct sets of parallel runways that cross each other at various points to an incredible six parallel runways and two crosswind runways. This of course means that more flights can operate at the same time in and out of the airport. Just the opening of the new runway in the fall will allow for 4 to 5 more operations per hour.

So that's the good news. There are plans to expand the terminal as well "if market conditions demand additional gate facilities," but I have yet to see anything definitive. That is the big bottleneck here. Virgin America had applied for government approval to serve O'Hare last month, but now that's not necessary. Now they'll just need to find gate space and there isn't much around.

I think it's a safe bet that United and American won't be inviting any airline to its terminals any time soon. That leaves the expensive international Terminal 5 as well as Third World Terminal 2. But Terminal 2 is crowded, and to operate a full schedule, they'd need gate space that just isn't available. If I were the city of Chicago, I'd throw up a double wide trailer and let Virgin America and other airlines build up service. Of course, United and American won't like that, so Chicago probably won't be doing it anytime soon.

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