United, American agree to delay O'Hare suit
United Air Lines and American Airlines said they'll slow the pace of a lawsuit seeking to delay a $3.4 billion expansion of Chicago's O'Hare International Airport in hopes of reaching an accord with the city.
United, a unit of Chicago-based United Continental Holdings Inc., today issued a joint statement with American saying they agreed with the city to delay by five days an Illinois state court case in which they sought to stop the sale of bonds to finance the expansion.
"The delay, requested by the U.S. Department of Transportation, is aimed at affording the parties time to engage in discussions to explore alternatives to the litigation," the carriers said.
United and American -- a unit of Fort Worth, Texas-based AMR Corp. -- are the city's primary tenants at O'Hare, the second-busiest U.S. airport, and account for 80 percent of its passenger traffic.
The airlines, which filed their lawsuit on Jan. 18, argue that O'Hare passenger traffic has declined in recent years, lessening the urgency for a project that includes realigned runways and a new terminal.
The agreement delays arguments set for Feb. 14 on a city motion to dismiss the suit and a Feb. 22 and 23 hearing on an injunction sought by the airlines.
Cook County Circuit Court Judge Richard Billik will now hear arguments on the dismissal request on Feb. 22 while the latter hearing will now start on March 1, the airlines said.
A meeting in Washington yesterday between airline representatives, city Mayor Richard M. Daley and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former U.S. Representative from Illinois, failed to resolve the dispute.
In an e-mailed statement confirming the postponements, Jennifer Hoyle, a spokeswoman for the city's law department ascribed them to yesterday's meeting.
"As a result of the meeting," she said, "today the city and the airlines appeared in court to temporarily suspend litigation activities so that further discussions may continue."
In a joint e-mail statement, Illinois Senators Dick Durbin, a Democrat, and Republican Mark Kirk said that "the O'Hare modernization is critical to current and future economic growth in Chicago and remains our state's largest jobs initiative. For the sake of Illinois jobs and economic growth, it is essential that both parties work together."
The case is United Air Lines v. The City of Chicago, 11ch02081, Cook County, Illinois Circuit Court, Chancery Division (Chicago).