Airports, the Chicago Way

One on one with the Chicago Department of Aviation’s Rosemarie Andolino.

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.

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