American Airlines opposed to Chicago airport expansion plan

MarketsAssociated Press

American Airlines said Wednesday that it's opposed to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's $8.5 billion O'Hare International Airport expansion plan because of what American called a "secret provision" that was inserted at the last minute to award more gates to United Airlines, which is based in the Windy City.

"The United gate deal would undermine competition, allowing the largest airline at O'Hare to expand its size advantage for years into the future," American Airlines said in a statement. "Thus, the United gate deal creates a clear winner, United, and clear losers: namely, competition, Chicago travelers and American Airlines."

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Emanuel introduced the plan at Wednesday's City Council meeting. His spokesman, Adam Collins, said the plan ensures every airline has the chance to grow and ensures that O'Hare and Chicago grow.

"This is about positioning Chicago to compete with Beijing, Paris and Abu Dhabi, not about positioning in the decades-old competition between two airlines," Collins said. "We are going to add more gates, build a new global terminal, improve runways and create 60,000 jobs in the process."

United Airlines on Wednesday called American's claims disingenuous and said there was no secret, last-minute deal. United said it reached an agreement with the city for five additional gates in 2016 and that "American Airlines has been aware of our agreement for over a year and has worked to block the implementation at every opportunity."

American, which is based in Fort Worth, Texas, said it would sign a lease if it didn't include the United provision or, the airline said, if the city would agree to accelerate construction of three additional gates and award them to American.

"We encourage city leaders to fix the lease and ensure competition remains vibrant at O'Hare," American said.

The eight-year plan would be the single largest and most expensive terminal revamp in the airport's history. The goal is to increase the number of international flights and create more room for domestic carriers. The project would aim to be completed in 2026. Plans call for a state-of-the-art global terminal, dozens of new gates and several additional concourses.