Massive O'Hare makeover moves forward after American Airlines drops opposition

Chicago aldermen on the city's Aviation Committee unanimously approved a massive $8.5 billion makeover of O'Hare International Airport Thursday.

The vote came after American Airlines, which in February pulled out of talks on the project, came to an agreement with Chicago late Wednesday.

The plan next goes to the Finance Committee and then the City Council for the final decision.

"This landmark plan for a redeveloped O'Hare will transform the airport experience for travelers and allow American Airlines to continue to invest and grow in the city of Chicago," American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said in a statement Thursday.

The positivity was a pivot from the carrier's contention that "a secret provision ... awarding additional gates to United" prevented it from signing onto the deal announced Feb. 28.

The coming together is "a watershed moment for Chicago, and it means we will create tens of thousands of jobs for Chicagoans from every part of the city, generate billions of dollars in economic development and strengthen our city's economy for generations," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said.

The city has promised to work with American to expedite construction of three common-use gates that can be used by all carriers as part of the new construction.

"I'm optimistic this will bring O'Hare back to being the No. 1 airport in the United States when it's completed," Aviation Committee Chairman Michael Zalewski said.

The $8.5 billion O'Hare project calls for taking down Terminal 2 and building a Global Terminal that would handle international flights and be equipped with U.S. Customs and Border Protection screening intended to expedite flight connections and move arriving passengers out of the airport faster.

Another element is expanding Terminal 5 by 25 percent, adding nine gates that will allow airlines to offer flights to more destinations more often.

Also envisioned under this proposal are two satellite concourses on the west side with a pedestrian tunnel network linking to the main terminals.

Overall, 35 new gates could be added to the airfield.

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