Federal shutdown might affect new O'Hare runway

The federal government shutdown is not expected to affect the planned Oct. 17 opening of a new runway at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport this month, but it might prevent planes from using it.

According to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, this week's shutdown forced some federal engineers to walk off the job before they had completed their electronics work at the tower that would allow pilots to land or take off on the runway using instruments they rely on in foul weather.

“They still have a week's worth of work over there to do,” Mike MacDonald, a regional vice president with the association, said Wednesday.

MacDonald said that even if visibility is not an issue and pilots can land without using the instruments, some pilots might still choose not to land their aircraft unless they have access to the instruments.

Karen Pride, a spokeswoman with the city's aviation department, said the runway is set to be officially commissioned and opened on Oct. 17 as planned. She also said that the department has been in constant contact with the Federal Aviation Administration and has not been told that the shutdown could affect the runway's use. A recording at the Chicago area's FAA office said that the office was closed because of the shutdown.

Like other federal employees who are classified as essential, the air traffic employees at O'Hare are continuing to work during the shutdown. But the federal engineers doing the electronics work were not classified as essential, so they were ordered to stay home.

The new runway is part of a multibillion-dollar project that began more than a decade ago to reconfigure and add runways in order to expand capacity and eliminate severe delays.

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