New O’Hare tower to open; short-term payoff questioned

Journalists were treated to a tour of the new O’Hare tower this week, and this well-reported article in the Chicago Tribune raises some interesting points. The $65 million structure is needed because controllers at the main tower can’t see the west end of the recently-completed north runway. But the article notes that the north runway can’t be used at all in some wind conditions, and could actually restrict throughput in others.

The runway, which Chicago officials say will be used to reduce flight delays in bad weather, actually reduces the airport’s capacity, according to [O’Hare controller Craig] Burzych, who has participated in FAA teams evaluating the runway project.

The number of arriving flights that O’Hare can accommodate each hour will decline, from 96 hourly to 88, Burzych said, because the new runway cannot be used in tandem with some other runways due to potential conflicts involving aircraft flying too close to each other.

The new runway will be used primarily for planes landing to the west, said Kevin Markwell, an FAA manager assigned to the O’Hare Modernization Program.

“An east flow cuts off too many other runways,” Markwell said.

However, he maintained that in optimal wind conditions the new runway will help O’Hare accommodate up to 112 landings an hour instead of the 96 currently.

One imagines that the real benefit of the new runway (and tower) is really aimed at a world where bidirectional ADS-B is ubiquitous.


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