O'Hare Expansion Talks See No Breakthrough

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Jan. 27--The top executives from United and American Airlines met today in Washington with Illinois' two senators over the carriers' dispute with the city of Chicago over how to complete the massive expansion project at O'Hare International Airport, but no breakthrough was reported.

Jeffery Smisek and Gerald Arpey, the chief executive officers at United and American, respectively, had no comment after an approximately 40-minute meeting with Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk. The senators had offered to mediate between city aviation and airline officials in a bid to get talks restarted.

The airlines filed suit against Chicago last week when city officials announced they would go ahead with plans to borrow about $1 billion, without airline approval, to keep the $3.36 billion second phase of the O'Hare Modernization Program moving forward. The airlines are seeking to slow down the project, and perhaps halt it for many years, until flights at O'Hare rebound and more runways are needed.

Meanwhile, Chicago has indefinitely postponed the bond sale due to the lawsuit, city officials said Thursday.

Regarding the meeting held in Durbin's office, city officials and airline executives needed an invitation to sit down together, according to Durbin, who said he planned to call Mayor Richard Daley immediately to discuss the situation.

Durbin and Kirk refused to divulge the specifics of their meeting with the airline executives and where they stood on finance and construction issues and so-called "triggers" that would link future flight volumes to a plan to build the final runways. Only one new runway has opened since groundbreaking in 2005.

Kirk said he thought talks could be resumed and the aim was "not talking about details outside the room, but very much working on common ground inside the room."

Durbin said he found the executives had a positive outlook. He added: "They are the major tenants of O'Hare. They are the future of O'Hare and they understand that O'Hare is the future of Illinois and the Midwest, so we really have common interests."

Kirk said he hoped a compromise could be reached to settle the lawsuit and set the stage for Chicago's next mayor, who will take office in May, with respect to airport issues.

"There was a lot more common ground than I thought," Kirk said.

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