Emanuel, airlines gear up for ‘aviation summit’
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org September 30, 2011 3:34PM
Updated: November 15, 2011 9:14AM
Mayor Rahm Emanuel will meet with airline executives on Monday to figure out what Chicago needs to do to maintain the “No. 1 in aviation” status it holds as home to United Airlines, Boeing and O’Hare Airport.
The “aviation summit” was the brainchild of United Holdings CEO Jeff Smisek. After welcoming 1,300 more United jobs to downtown Chicago in June, Emanuel joked, “I wish I had thought of it myself.”
The goal is to find ways to build on the air travel “lead” Chicago has in O’Hare — the only dual-hub airport in North America — and as home to the corporate headquarters of Boeing and Orbitz.
“We have to…constantly ask fresh questions, because I don’t want to just sit on the lead. I want to expand it,” the mayor said.
“What are the improvements and infrastructure investments we have to make in our system to make us and keep us competitive?”
One thing that will not be on the table at Monday’s meeting is reviving the $2.5 billion privatization of Midway Airport that collapsed in 2009 for lack of financing.
Emanuel campaigned on a promise to permanently ground that deal on the heels of the parking meter fiasco. A Midway deal would have a tough time winning City Council approval for the same reasons.
“We have a period of time to make that decision. We have some things that are gonna come before it. And at the right time, I’ll look at that,” the mayor said Friday.
“I’m against privatization. That doesn’t mean you can’t monetize assets. But, as it relates to privatization, I’m not part of that. That’s not part of the discussion. Before I even get to Midway, there’s a whole series of other questions that are essential that have to be asked and answered.”
O’Hare and Phase 2 of the massive runway expansion project is almost certain to be a focus of the airline meeting.
Earlier this year, city concessions and a $155 million infusion of federal funding paved the way for $1.17 billion worth of new construction at O’Hare, including a new south runway.
After months of acrimony culminating in an unprecedented lawsuit, United and American — the two carriers for which O’Hare is a hub — reached an agreement with then-Mayor Richard M. Daley that allowed construction that had ground to a halt to resume, but only on $1.17 billion worth of projects.
The $2.23 billion in remaining projects will be the subject of a new round of negotiations slated to begin no later than March 1, 2013.
That means it’s up to Emanuel to find a way to bring the project over the goal line within the boundaries of the new deal.
The city has agreed that a new western terminal the airlines don’t want and insist O’Hare doesn’t need will be developed, only if demand requires it. And the city has agreed to negotiate — not try to dictate — construction of a north runway and other projects.