Chicago O’Hare International Airport is an airport located in Chicago, Illinois, 17 miles (27 km) northwest of the Chicago Loop. O’Hare International Airport is the largest hub of United Airlines(whose headquarters will soon move from nearby Elk Grove Township to downtown Chicago) and the second-largest hub of American Airlines (after Dallas/Fort Worth).
O’Hare International Airport is operated by the City of Chicago Department of Aviation, associated with an umbrella regional authority.
Chicago O’Hare International Airport rivals Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport as the world’s busiest airport. However in 2005, Hartsfield overtook O’Hare International Airport as the world’s busiest airport in terms of takeoffs and landings. This was mainly due to the federal government imposing flight caps at O’Hare to reduce flight delays.
For the first half of 2006, Chicago O’Hare International Airport was the busiest airport. In terms of total passengers served, Hartsfield has held the title of world’s busiest airport for 8 years now, but Chicago also has commercial air traffic to Midway Airport. If Midway did not exist, O’Hare International Airport would be the busier airport over Hartsfield. O’Hare International Airport also has a strong international presence with flights to more than 60 foreign destinations.
O’Hare International Airport ranks fourth in the nation’s international gateways; only JFK International Airport in New York City, LAX in Los Angeles and MiamiInternational Airport serve more foreign destinations. O’Hare International Airport was voted the Best Airport in North America for the year 2003 by readers of the U.S. Edition of Business Traveler Magazine, marking six years in a row O’Hare has earned top honor.
Chicago O’Hare International Airport was constructed in 1942-43 as a manufacturing plant for Douglas C-54s during WWII. The site was chosen for its proximity to the city and transportation. The two million square-foot (180,000 m²) factory needed easy access to the workforce of the nation’s then-second-largest city, as well as its extensive railroad infrastructure.
Orchard Place was a small pre-existing community in the area, and the airport was known during the war as Orchard Place Airport/Douglas Field. The facility was also the site of the Army Air Force’s 803 Special Depot, which stored many rare or experimental planes, including captured enemy aircraft. These historic aircraft would later be transferred to the National Air Museum, going on to form the core of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum’s collection.
Douglas Aircraft Company’s contract ended in 1945, and though plans were proposed to build commercial aircraft, the company ultimately chose to concentrate production on the west coast. With the departure of Douglas, the airport took the name Orchard Field Airport.
In 1945, the facility was chosen by the City of Chicago as the site for a facility to meet future aviation demands. Though its familiar three-letter IATA code ORD still reflects the early identity of the airport, it was renamed in 1949 after Lt. Cmdr. Edward “Butch” O’Hare a WWII flying ace who was awarded the Medal of Honor.
By the early 1950s, Midway Airport, which had been the primary Chicago airport since 1931, had become too small and crowded despite multiple expansions and was unable to handle the planned first generation of jets. The City of Chicago and FAA began to develop O’Hare International Airport as the main airport for Chicago’s future.
The first commercial passenger flights were started there in 1955, and an international terminal was built in 1958, but the majority of domestic traffic did not move from Midway until completion of a 1962 expansion of O’Hare. The arrival of Midway’s former traffic instantly made O’Hare International Airport the new World’s Busiest Airport, serving 10 million passengers annually. Within two years that number would double, with more people passing through O’Hare International Airportin 12 months than Ellis Island had processed in its entire existence. In 1997, annual passenger volume was 70 million.
O’Hare Field is physically connected to the city of Chicago via a narrow strip of land under the Kennedy Expressway. This land was added to the city limits in the 1950’s to assure the airport was contiguous with the city to keep it under city control. In one of the most famous land grabs in history, the land was condemned then annexed instantly by the city before surrounding suburbs even knew what happened to keep them from interfering with the city’s plans for growth at the airport. A rapid transit rail line was extended to the airport in the 1980s.
Chicago O’Hare International Airport’s high volume and crowded schedule can lead to cancellations and long delays that affect air travel across the United States. Official reports rank O’Hare International Airport as the least punctual airport in the United States based on percentage of delayed flights. United Airlines and American Airlines have recently agreed to modify their schedules to help reduce congestion caused by clustered arrivals and departures. Because of the air traffic departing, arriving, and near the airport, the air traffic controllers at O’Hare and its nearby facilities are some of the hardest working in the world in terms of number of controlled flights per hour.
City management has committed to a $6 billion capital investment plan to increase the airport’s capacity and decrease delays by an estimated 79 percent. This plan was approved by the FAA in October 2005 and will involve a reconfiguration of the airfield and addition of terminal space. Four runways will be added and three decommissioned in order to give the airfield an eight-runway parallel configuration similar to those in Dallas.
Terminals 3 and 5 will undergo expansion, and a new west terminal is planned with western access into the airport; however, some land acquisition is necessary, requiring approximately 2,800 residents to be relocated. The program will expand the airport’s capacity to over 3,800 operations per day, up from the present capacity of 2,700 and will vastly increase passenger throughput capacity.