Is the closure of Meigs Field affecting O'Hare?

I heard on the news this morning that Chicago’s O’Hare Airport is having problems with air traffic delays. Does Mayor Daley’s illegal closure of Meigs Field have anything to do with it? Or are Chicago pilots landing elsewhere?

Meigs was primarily for small aircraft which wouldn’t have landed at O’Hare anyway.

I’m sure one of the Doper pilots can shed more light, but its my understaniding that the problems with on-time performance at O’Hare have to do with increased demand for flights, the number of airlines operating there and such

Let’s see… go flying on a Saturday morning, or answer a question about aviation on the Dope???

(runs off to look out window)

Lucky for you guys, it’s IFR conditions right now.

Anyhow… short answer is no, the closure of Meigs Field is not what is mucking up O’Hare traffic right now. The Meigs closure IS affecting safety along the lake front flyway, but that does not involve the commercial airliners, and it’s an entirely separate topic.

Let’s see, I’ll start simple with “Why O’Hare traffic is mucked up”

The FAA estimates that, under perfect conditions, O’Hare can handle about 200 operations per hour (frequently expressed as “100 takeoffs and a similar number of landings” in the local press). Which is pretty darn impressive - that’s an airplane arriving or departing about once every 15-20 seconds. They can do that because they have multiple runways. Each runway is seeing an airplane only about every 60-90 seconds.

This, by the way, assumes PERFECT weather conditions, including wind direction allowing for the maximum number runways. Needless to say, such conditions do not always exist, and when they do not the number of “operations” per hour goes down significantly.

Right now, during the peak hours, the airliners are collectively scheduling about 220 operations per hour.

The problem is becoming obvious at this point. If current trends continue there will be about 340 ops/hour during peak times by December.

And air traffic control? Normally they get something like 1 “operational error” per year (usually meaning airplanes getting closer than they should). They’ve been averaging one a month since February. It’s not a sudden attack of incompentance, it’s that much more traffic. (Virtually no Meigs traffic ever needed to talk to these controllers, so no, that’s not a factor).

And, oh yes, something like 55% of the current controllers involved with O’Hare traffic on all levels are due to retire in the next 5-10 years.

Can you say “perfect storm”?

Here’s one more item: Daley wants to do this big expansion project at O’Hare. Nevermind Daley knows jack about aviation (and please, do NOT get me started on that subject!) - even if the project was approved today (and it’s not) the runways would not be complete for at least 5-10 years. Meanwhile, it will involve lots of construction at the airport, which will definitely negatively impact the number of possible operations per hour. Not to mention all the possibilities for “runway incursions” involving construction equipment and personnel.

O’Hare traffic is mucked up because the airport is functioning at capacity, and a little over. Even if you could fit more planes per hour into the airspace, there is just physically not enough runway to accomodate them all.

Because O’Hare is such a major hub it affects a LOT of other airports across the country.

We actually SAW this coming - we had the same damn problem in the summer of 2001, but September 2001 caused such a drop in air travel that we’ve had a three year break before it ramped up to the same traffic levels.

Did we do anything intelligent during those three years to deal with this problem? Of course not! How silly!

United and American actually BOTH agreed to to cut peak hour flights, and did so - which should have solved the problem short term. Problem is, a regional airliner then added the exact same number of flights per hour during those time periods. Nothing solved.

The Feds have called a meeting of ALL the airlines using O’Hare to get them to play nice and cut back during certain time frames (this actually required a genuine act of Congress to achieve, since the airlines wanted protection from anti-collusion laws before agreeing to this).

The Feds say if that sort of cooperation doesn’t work they’ll have to impose limits for safety reasons.

The problem, again, is that the airport is FULL. There’s no more capacity.

But no one wants to deal with it. Locally, it’s a political bombshell. Which is effing stupid - two airliners colliding over Chicago would be even MORE of a bombshell and I hope to God that’s not what it takes to get some real action on this issue.

By the way - Midway is ALSO fast approaching the exact same conditions. It’s dwarfed by O’Hare, of course, but it, too, has reached capacity.

Either folks need to stop using Chicago airports so much, or Chicago needs another big airport. But there has been so much political BS about where and what and who pays that such an airport is at least 20 years away even if they broke ground tomorrow.

We DO have Gary Regional, which could soak up quite a few of the regional jets (we already have 757 and 737’s flying out of there now, which is a typical size for those flight) but again, politcal BS - Gary is in Indiana, not Illinois, the direct revenues would flow to Indiana, not Illinois and Gary, not Chicago. It needs some work, but it would be a HECK of a lot cheaper than building from scratch and, hey, the area population is mostly in favor of expanding the airport (note my location - I have some knowledge of the region). Even me - although if the traffic at Gary reached that sort of commercial level my own airport would probably cease to exist and it would cause me some personal inconveninence. However, for the greater good I would be willing to drive to Valpariso or Lansing to get my aviation fix. It’s not that much of an imposition.

How does Midway traffic affect O’Hare? Do planes departing and landing at Midway have to schedule takeoffs and landings around planes at O’Hare?

Also, if proposed flight cuts at O’Hare take effect, will more airlines divert traffic to Midway? (Is there room there?)

What about the South Suburban Airport idea, is that something that could ever happen, or is it still mired in politics also? Would that have any effect on O’Hare airplane traffic?

Yeah, Broomstick, can you fill us in? My Chicago family tells me that they were looking into building and airport at Heschweg (sp?), but that was several years years ago.

Why did Hizonner Junior close Meigs? Geez, I guess it was done in the middle of the night…apparently live on WGN, with earthmoving equipment going down Lake Shore Drive and more or less tearing up the poor airfield…I’m told it looked like the Russian invasion of Poland or something out of the Cold War…

Short answers: not much and no.

O’Hare and Midway “own” different parts of the sky. Yes, this results in some traffic issues at Chicago Center, which funnels traffic to both airports, but it’s not the root of the problem.

Just as cars on a freeway require a certain distance between them for safety, airplanes likewise require a certain minimum distance. We all know what happens when that safety buffer disappears on a freeway and there’s an accident - multi-vehicle pile up. Now, imagine a multi-vehicle pile-up on an airport runway. This is a Very Bad Thing. All of us want to avoid that.

By the way, although it has been a long time since two major airliners collided on a runway, the event was memorable. It CAN happen. That’s why this is getting to be such an issue. We’re at the point where the FAA says the spacing is at a minimum. The controllers believe we have already exceeded safe limits, and they’re very uncomfortable with the situation. The “safe following distance” at O’Hare is starting to disappear.

And, again, this is an issue of runways. There is plenty of space in which to fit even more airplanes above the city of Chicago - just stack 'em higher. The problem is, so many of them want to land on the same patch of pavement at the same time.

No. Not possible. For two reasons.

First, as already stated, Midway is also near or at capacity. They, too, are experiencing delays on days with excellent weather because of too many planes trying to use the same airport at the same time. The problem is not as frequent as O’Hare, but they really can’t add any more traffic. By the way - closing Meigs Field DID affect traffic at Midway to some degree. A slice of the business/charter/government traffic that used to land at Meigs now lands at Midway, and uses the same runways as the airliners. (The rest of Meigs’ business wound up at Palwaukee - already doing some 300,000 operations a year before that unhappy events - and Gary Regional. Gary also got at least one of the Meigs controllers)

Secondly - Midway is severely constrained in area. The only way to expand a runway would be to knock down dozens of houses - which would not be politically savvy, even for a Daley. The houses run right up to the airport fence around Midway. Midway was also built before the biggest jets currently in use. You can’t safely land a 727 or DC-10 at Midway, the runways aren’t long enough. You certainly couldn’t fly a full one out of there.

Midway does a fine busines with airlines willing to run 737’s and similar sized planes, but it can’t handle anything bigger. Just not safe. So while, in theory, some traffic could be diverted certainly not all of it could be, and anyhow, there’s no more room there, either.

Oh, what a politcal debacle THAT is - mostly an excuse for politcal posturing. More on that in another post.

Lake Calumet/Hegewische (no, I probably did not spell that correctly, either) was a proposed site, oh, over 10 years ago now. Discarded for a variety of reasons, some practical, some political.

Currently, they’re looking at Peotone. Nevermind it’s in the middle of nowhere and folks who do live there are screaming bloody murder and don’t want it.

Gary, Indiana would LOVE their airport to be the next “big Chicago airport”. It has at least the potential capacity of another Midway, and there have been several proposed plans to modify the runways to allow them to accomodate any jet that can use O’Hare. Not only that - it’s a working airport already. Again, politics have stood in the way.

If they cut flights at O’Hare, that’s flights to Chicago cut - unless you can convince those people to use Gary. As it is, some business travelers fly to Milwaukee, Wisconsin or Rockford, Illinois and drive to Chicago. More symptoms of gridlock.

Problem is, they dragged their feet and played pork-barrell, special-interest politics with the “third airport” for so long they now have their backs against the wall.

Frankly I wouldn’t be surprised if the next interesting event would be the collapse of United - which would relieve the congestion briefly. But traffic would build back up again as other airlines took over those routes. Then it’s back to where we are now.


Because I don’t want to work up to a furious rage right now (already did that once in the Pit today) I’ll just say there were several threads on Meigs at the time it happened, and maybe when I get back I’ll link to them (if someone else doesn’t do it first)

Here ya go, threads about closing Meigs:

Daley attacks Meigs Field

Closing Meigs Field

And a website with some details:

Friends of Meigs

The people want to go to and from at these times …
The people are what airlines make money with so they want to do what the people want …
The airlines want to make max profits and so set up in the most advantages to them manner they can …
The people don’t really understand the problems with aviation, they just want to go now and without long deklays or commutes, perfectly normal …
Politics …
Crooked politicians …

Unfortunately, it will take one or more disasters to even get pointed in the right direction …

It will get messy …

We have a political airport out in the country here, Northwest Arkansas Regional, good for air traffic but everyone hates it …

No easy answers …

So… ORD’s operating at about 10% more operations/hour than the “perfect” conditions? I will definitely keep that in mind for booking future flights involving connections.

Do you think we’re heading for a catastrophic runway incursion a la Tenerife, or just having a backhoe bumble out in front of a taxiing 777 and slicing open a wing?

Hard to say, really…

Statistically speaking, O’Hare is way “overdue” for a fatal accident - I believe the last one was in the 1970’s, involving an engine nacelle falling off a DC-10 during take-off. So it’s been something like 30 years.*

If the expansion construction happens, I’d guess the “backhoe vs. 747” has some real potential. Certainly, we could have a Tenerife style incursion - Og knows we get enough foggy/low visibility days - but there’s a lot of effort put into preventing just such an occurance, including installation of the latest ground-control technology.

What I dread most would be a 747 vs. 747 in the air, which would be just as bad as the Tenerife crash, with the added “bonus” of flaming wreckage falling out of the sky onto a dense urban area. Again, a lot of effort is put into avoiding this sort of thing.

Here’s the deal - the folks running/using O’Hare are good - they have to be. The worst controller at O’Hare is still above the industry average. However, it’s a very complex system with many interlocking parts. When such a system fails it might fail only a little bit… but it certainly could fail in a big way. You get a day with low fog, a radar system going down (for whatever reason), lots of traffic… yeah, it could get real ugly. Really really ugly.


You know, I really don’t want to see anything bad happen. No, I don’t. But there is a problem building here and no one seems to be either willing or able to do something to take the pressure off.

Would I refuse to fly a commercial airline out of O’Hare? Actually, no - the odds of me being on that particular plane with the lid blows is very, very small. It would still be more dangerous (statistically) to take a long trip by road.

However, those of you who are concerned with timeliness as well as delays should keep the following in mind (we’re off the safety topic for right now):

  1. The airlines ARE offering significantly lower fares for many routes during off-peak hours. If you’re willing to accomodate the slightly awkward times you could save significantly (for travel with my company - and yes, we use O’Hare a great deal - we’ve seen $500-800 savings on some tickets)

  2. Midway is not (yet) as congested as O’Hare, so you are less likely to experience traffic delays, and it’s usually cheaper.

  3. Gary Regional has two airlines flying into it - Eastern and Hooters. (Granted, “Hooters” might look odd as a choice for business travel - explaining that to Accounting might be interesting…) You can access Chicago via the freeways. There is a car rental counter right there. By the way - the terminal facilities are new, there is little or no crowding, parking - both short and long term - is free, and if you don’t want to drive yourself there are plenty of taxi and limosine services available. There is also the South Shore Rail Road, but you’ll need to cover a short hop from the airport to the train (taxis again.)

  4. For real adventure you can fly into South Bend, Indiana - the South Shore terminal is right at the airport terminal, you can walk from your plane to the gate. OK, it’s a two-hour train ride into Chicago from there … but no different than coming from Milwaukee and taking the Amtrak, or from Rockford, Illinois which, as I mentioned, some people are already doing. Yes, the delays and aggravation at O’Hare can be that bad

  5. If you have enough people going in the same direction you can even charter an aircraft into a smaller and less congested airport. Among your choices are Palwaukee (only 8 miles from O’Hare), Waukegan, DuPage, Clow, Gary, Lansing, and a bunch of others of various sizes and facilities that, unless you need to be in the Loop, may well land you closer to your destination than the big hub airports. I would be leery of small charter planes during icing conditions - spring and fall storms, freezing rain, etc. (a good charter outfit will refuse to fly in unsafe conditions, so if they say “no, not today” don’t argue with them - better to arrive and be late than to be late and never arrive) - but they offer a great deal of flexibility in terms of scheduling and itinery. The smaller airports frequently are HAPPY to see the paying business traveler (their business slumped after 9/11, too - but they didn’t get a bailout from Congress like the airlines did) and they are much, much less crowded.

So there really ARE alternatives (not that the airlines would want you to know that) if you choose to use them.

  • For a fatal aviation accident - there are other fatalities at O’Hare, from passengers having heart attacks to a collision of baggage tugs last week that killed one driver. You get that many people in one area someone is going to check out permanently from one cause or another several times a year

Well, they likely aren’t actually operating that way. The airlines are scheduling it that way. They are putting maximum pressure on the system and everything that doesn’t make its schedule gets backed up until the pressure slacks off some.

Minor nitpick: It’s Southeast Airlines. (“Now serving Newburgh and Allentown!”) Eastern went belly-up in 1991.

<obligatory Simpsons> “Because at Eastern Airlines, world domination is our master plan. Now please enjoy the soothing music of the Turtles.” </obligatory Simpsons>

Alright, southeast… all know is that they’re flying over my neighborhood and they’re big. :slight_smile:

Looks like some progress has been made:

Airlines agree to cut flights

Also has the usual bellyaching about the consumers being deprieved of choice (personally, I choose to arrive safe and on time, even if I arrive less often, but then I’m weird or something) and the interesting point that the city of Chicago feels entitled to a certain dollar amount from flights landing at O’Hare and if there aren’t sufficient flights to generate that number they’ll just raise fees until they get it.

Anyhow - yet another temporary fix, one that won’t go into effect for a couple months, and we’ll see if it actually does any good.

Not to hijack this thread entirely, but . . . .

Really? I mean, I know there was a lot of opposition to building XNA (aka “Highfill International Airport”) in the years leading up to it, including a certain amount of bad faith on the part of the backers (“why no, we’re not trying to replace FYV, this is going to be a cargo airport”, etc.). But now that it’s there, and it’s possible to get from Bentonville or Rogers to most of the country in a couple of hours without having to drive forty minutes or more to the south side of Fayetteville first (and it’s not much less convenient for folks in Fayetteville than FYV was), I sort of thought most people had come to terms with it. I know that those of us who need to get to NWA occasionally definitely prefer it – I live in Atlanta and can fly direct into XNA on a Delta CRJ in two hours, instead of the old days when I’d have to fly to DFW (my least favorite airport ever to change in) and then take a Brasilia into FYV and drive the better part of an hour to visit my parents in Bentonville. I have acquaintances in Atlanta who regularly deal with Wal-Mart and definitely prefer it. But do the locals really still hate it?