American Airlines is building five new gates at O’Hare Airport in a move to help expand operations and improve on-time performance. The construction will parallel the new runway project announced last weekend. This is the first expansion of gates at O’Hare in more than 20 years; it has been nearly 30 since domestic gates were added. The five new gates will come on Concourse L, extending the terminal closer to the taxiways.
This sort of growth is the missing piece to the other expansion efforts the City of Chicago has announced with the airport. Just adding more runways doesn’t do much good when the gate utilization is too high to efficiently push more flights in and out. And the main terminals of O’Hare have been essentially at capacity for many years now. Terminal 5 (the “International” terminal) has some slack in gate space but domestic carriers dislike using it based on the extra train ride required to get there; it is less convenient for travelers.
Even with the new gates I’m not betting on massive expansion of flights from AA based on this expansion. Looking at the space available and what can be fitted in with the construction I’m guessing that these gates are more likely to be for smaller jets – 50-100 seaters – than for larger aircraft. That’s still growth but not quite as significant.
It also appears that this may be the last time there is construction to add gates in the main terminal complex. The other concourses all are pushing up against the edges of the taxiways already making further growth unlikely. Terminal 5 has some space to expand but, as noted above, no one seems to want to use those gates.
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