The year started off well, but it doesn't look like O'Hare Airport reclaimed its "World's Busiest Airport" title from Atlanta in 2006.
At the same time, errors by air traffic controllers at the Chicago area's main facility have spiked.
O'Hare handled 958,643 takeoffs and landings last year, almost 14,000 fewer than in 2005, according to figures scheduled to be released next week.
Year-end totals for Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport were not available Wednesday, but as of November, O'Hare was trailing by more than 13,000 flights.
That's a change from the first six months of the year when O'Hare was in the lead, thanks in part to fewer flights being offered by Atlanta's leading carrier, Delta Air Lines.
Flight totals at O'Hare have been on a steady decline since 2004, when the Federal Aviation Administration limited the number of domestic arrivals during peak periods in an effort to reduce delays.
Those efforts have been only partly successful, considering that O'Hare routinely ranks as one of the worst airports for on-time arrivals and departures.
Last year wasn't good for air traffic controllers, either.
Operational errors more than doubled -- from 13 in 2005 to 28 in 2006 -- at the Terminal Radar Approach Control center in Elgin, which manages airspace for O'Hare, Midway and other Chicago-area airports, the FAA said.
STAFFING SHORTAGES BLAMED
Members of the controllers union say staffing shortages are to blame for the increase in errors.
"We're seeing it nationwide," said Doug Church, a spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. "This is what's going to happen if the FAA continues to allow towers to be understaffed."
But an FAA spokesman said "the number of errors fluctuates and is not really tied to the amount of flights being handled."
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