The city of Chicago on Wednesday revealed plans for an $8.5 billion terminal expansion for O’Hare International Airport (ORD). Plans call for 25 percent more gate capacity, the modernization of existing terminals and overall improvement of the passenger experience in a project that will constitute the airport’s largest terminal expansion ever. Construction is expected to start next year.
“This agreement is a win for O’Hare and our customers, thanks to the investments the city and our airline partners are making to ensure our top connected airport is positioned to grow for the future,” says Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans. “Our plans will put O’Hare at the forefront of the industry, providing the absolute best value when it comes to customer service, efficiency and innovation. At the same time, we are committed to ensuring O’Hare’s economic power also strengthens our community, and will ensure that our investments bring more opportunities for all Chicagoans.”
The project ran into an immediate snag, however, due to opposition from American Airlines Group Inc., Reuters and other news outlets reported. American is claiming that the city did a last-minute private deal with United Airlines, giving United five of eight gates that all parties had agreed to designate for common use, the Reuters report says. The report notes that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has vowed to move ahead despite American’s opposition.
The robust expansion plan marks the first major capital improvement to O’Hare’s terminals in more than 25 years. A new Terminal Area Plan for O’Hare will completely redevelop the terminals and concourses, with Terminal 5 to undergo an upgrade and expansion, Terminal 2 to be largely demolished and rebuilt to include a brand new international arrivals facility, and renovations made to Terminals 1 and 3. These changes will expand gate capacity and set in motion a wide range of other improvements to significantly enhance airline performance and the overall passenger experience, the airport said.
Key elements of the project include a new international terminal, to be called the O’Hare Global Terminal; creating of a Global Alliance Hub, giving passengers an easier connection to international destinations upon arrivals; state-of-the-art security screening and baggage systems; and new self-service technologies for flight check-in.
The upgrades are set to grow O’Hare’s overall terminal square footage by more than 60 percent, from 5.5 to 8.9 million square feet, and increase gate frontage by 25 percent.
The expansion comes at a time when passenger demand is rising. According to ORD, the airport is expected to serve nearly 100 million passengers by 2026, up from nearly 80 million served today.