Airports, the Chicago Way

As commissioner of aviation for the Chicago Department of Aviation, Rosemarie S. Andolino oversees one of the busiest airport systems in the world. Included in that task is overseeing the modernization of O’Hare International Airport; the potential privatization of Midway Airport; taking a lead in the environmental initiative going on with airports worldwide; and, connecting to airports globally to share lessons learned. Andolino has worked for the City of Chicago for some 20 years, and most recently was charged with direct oversight of the O’Hare Modernization Program (OMP). AIRPORT BUSINESS recently interviewed Andolino on a number of topics related to Chicago’s airports and the industry. Following are edited excerpts ...

AIRPORT BUSINESS: O’Hare International has the potential to be impacted by the proposed merger of United and Continental. What are your thoughts on the impact of such a merger on your airport’s operations?

Andolino: It’s exciting for Chicago, having these two major entities come together. We have one of the world’s busiest airports. We have Boeing [headquarters]; and now the United/Continental organization here. It makes us a major air industry destination.

It means more jobs; it continues to give us great access. United and Continental route structures really complement each other; there’s not a lot of overlap. So it should enhance what we currently have. We should only stand to gain.

AB: But what about airline mergers in general and their impact?

Andolino: Mergers can have a positive and negative connotation. There’s always the chance of increased fares. However, in Chicago, we have two major hub carriers with American and United/Continental. Plus we have Midway with Southwest. So I don’t see that negative impact because of the competition we have here.

AB: Part of the OMP is a proposed Western airline terminal, which hasn’t been enthusiastically embraced by the carriers. What’s the latest?

Andolino: The Western terminal will be demand-driven. The constraining factor is still the runways. Until they’re all complete, that constraint will continue to exist. We have seen benefits already from the first runway and extension that have come online. In fact, United announced in May that they ranked number one in on-time performance among America’s five largest global carriers in the first quarter. We believe a major part of that is our new runway. The better dependability and efficiency that our runways will create will allow us to continue to add more service. Our carriers will continue to look at O’Hare as a place to expand; with that will be the need for more gates.

We are looking at doing a study for our Western terminal to determine what it can be. Is it going to be a logistic carrier operation, a mixed carrier with common use gates, an international carrier use, or other options? Right now we’re still evaluating the core footprint and giving ourselves options.

AB: How will it be funded?

Andolino: The terminal has many options. It can be self-sustaining; at the end of the day it will be demand-driven. Right now our focus continues to be on getting the runways done; that’s our primary focus. We’re midway through our program. We’re still in litigation on the runway with a local cemetery.

We’re doing the study to see where we are. Right now our current dialog with the carriers continues to be around the completion phase of the runways. We’re still working with them to secure the funding.

AB: You have a ‘sister airport’ initiative with a major Middle East airport. Explain what that is about.

Andolino: It’s about connecting the two economies and looking for opportunities; strengthening the culture; and looking at ways to partner. We signed our sister airport agreement in October of 2009 with Abu Dhabi Airports Company.

We’ve gone abroad and opined on their midfield terminal complex, sharing knowledge and resources. They’ve come here and had dialog regarding their very aggressive technology moves. Their head of IT came here and spent time with our IT group, looking at things we should be considering. Most recently, we had visitors who came out for the sustainable dialog — how it apply towards their program and their adoption of our Sustainable Airport Manual.

AB: What would you tell other airports regarding the benefits of such an agreement?

Andolino: One of the greatest things I learned from Mayor [Richard] Daley is we can always learn from each other. It’s something the airport industry is good at. We’re all very competitive but we do support each other. There’s tremendous value in talking with other airports, large or small, domestic or international, to understand their best practices, and how to apply their best practices to your airport. None of us has all the right answers.

AB: Your department has sort of taken a stewardship role when it comes to airports and environmental initiatives. How did you get into that?

Andolino: I have to attribute that to Mayor Daley and what I’ve learned from him over the last 20 years on sustainability; he’s one of the greenest mayors in the world. When I was appointed to the O’Hare Modernization Program back in 2003, I asked what types of sustainable elements were we implementing? We weren’t at the time.

Based on my experience working with the mayor and my knowledge of what were able to do within the city, we put something together for our airport. I went to LEED and talked with them; they deal with vertical construction; our work is primarily flatwork, horizontal construction — runways. So we had to think out of the box.

We put a team of industry experts together and in six months came up with our sustainable design manual for design and construction, and incorporated it into the OMP. We asked all our contractors to bring on a LEED-accredited expert.

In 2009, we announced the update to our Sustainable Design Manual and enhancement to it, which we now call our Sustainable Airport Manual (SAM). One of first chapters of SAM is design and construction.

Over 200 airport executives have contributed. We’ve had great partnership with the industry, and with that we are developing additional chapters to the manual. We’re looking to unveil the next three chapters — operations and maintenance; tenants and concessions; and airport planning.

We have a guildeline on how to conduct green meetings as well. We’re looking to have a soup to nuts background for how an airport can conduct their day to day operations in a sustainable manner.

It’s not only to look at best practices, but to create a rating and metric system that can become an industry standard.

AB: The Chicago City Council recently approved 24/7 liquor carts at your airports. Is this revenue-driven?

Andolino: That is to provide an amenity to our customers. Before, the airports were restricted to the city’s liquor laws. Now we have the ability to offer 24/7 service. It’s providing another option. I’ve had more and more international experience and recognize the offerings that are out there. We need to be looking at what’s being done in the global marketplace.

We separated airside from landside as well. Only the airside establishments will have the 24/7 capability.

It will increase revenue opportunities as well; our concessions are excited by it. O’Hare is an older facility and constrained; we’re looking to bring offerings strategically to our customer. We’re bringing the grab-and-go to the customers. It’s more of a kiosk than a pushcart. We anticipate six kiosks at O’Hare; none yet at Midway.

The ordinance provided three things: a Class A and Class B license, and a 24-hour application.

AB: What’s the status of the Midway privatization effort?

Andolino: It’s still on hold; we’re evaluating our options. The market is doing better but needs to be more robust. It’s still an option the city is intently evaluating.