A bird's-eye view of airports in Emanuel's Chicago

O'Hare expansion. Midway privatization. And, oh yeah - Gary!

August 24, 2011

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(Getty/Tim Boyle)
Mayor Rahm Emanuel is committed to finishing the on-going expansion at O'Hare.

We’re taking stock of what’s new in Rahm Emanuel's administration as well as what's been moving along as usual. Since Chicago’s election, news about city airports has been a mixed bag of old problems and new opportunities. We give a birds-eye view of what’s happening with airports in Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago.

Let’s start at O’Hare, Chicago's flagship airport and one the world’s busiest. How’s Rahm Emanuel dealt with that in the past 100 days?

SCHWIETERMAN: He’s really come in with, everything gets looked at again.

This is Joseph Schwieterman, a transportation professor at DePaul University. Schwieterman says Emanuel looked at the smaller stuff at O’Hare - like a politically-charged concessions contract, as well as the biggest: the 15-billion dollar expansion. Schwieterman says when it came to O’Hare expansion, the new mayor got on board quickly.

SCHWIETERMAN: The O’Hare project has progressed so far now that I think there’s a general sense that there’s no turning back.

Having said we thought even three months ago that this was going to be the big summer for airline travel.  That’s not happening.

ANDOLINO: We need to not live in just today but we need to be prepared for the future.

That’s Rosemarie Andolino, Commissioner of the city’s Department of Aviation.

ANDOLINO: We want to continue to be an airport, a global airport, bringing commerce here to our state. And it is our economic engine. I think everybody realizes that.

Commissioner Andolino’s one of the few holdovers from Mayor Daley’s administration. She says Rahm Emanuel is not slowing things down.

ANDOLINO: In terms of aviation, I think the commitment continues to be just as great. Again, creating jobs, bettering the customers’ experience, enhancing the customers’ experience is a leading desire for Mayor Emanuel that we continue to do here.

It’s not clear, though, whether all the airlines at O’Hare can stay on board with the project without fighting City Hall over costs and benefits.

Now, to the Southwest Side of Chicago. That’s where Midway Airport is nestled among bungalow houses and rail yards. Chicago’s been trying to hold onto and expand O’Hare, but Midway? The city’s trying to lease it out. In fact, it almost did lease out Midway two years ago, but the $2.5 billion deal fell through. Rosemarie Andolino says Rahm Emanuel is still thinking about it.

ANDOLINO: Right now, the administration is keeping all of its options open. There are pros and cons to everything. And so, we’ll just have to see with a little more time to see how things play out and what’s best for Chicago.

Now, Midway and O’Hare are technically in the city, but you may not know there’s a third Chicago airport. It's called Gary-Chicago International Airport and it’s right across the Indiana state line in Gary. It’s small, and it doesn’t have a passenger airline yet. So, it’s little wonder that Mayor Richard Daley didn’t talk much about Gary-Chicago, and Rahm Emanuel hasn’t, either. That’s had people in Indiana worry that Rahm Emanuel would pull Chicago out. Here’s Gary-Chicago airport board member Ross Amundson.

AMUNDSON: Certainly that’s a question you ask any time somebody new comes to the table. We’ve seen nothing that would indicate that continued relationship and trust isn’t going to continue.

Chicago aviation chief Rosemarie Andolino says no one needs to worry. When it comes to airports, Chicago’s got Gary’s back.

ANDOLINO: It’s almost like a big brother, little brother kind of relationship. Or, big sister I should say.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel hasn’t talked all that much about airports during his administration. But Andolino says he’ll change that soon. He plans to host an aviation summit with industry leaders this fall.