O'Hare bumps Atlanta into second place as nation's busiest airport

O'Hare International Airport left its Atlanta rival in the dust last year as busiest hub in the U.S. after four years at No. 2.

O'Hare handled 903,747 flights in 2018 compared to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport with 895,502, the Federal Aviation Administration said Monday. Hartsfield-Jackson had the most flights in 2017.

The Chicago airport also surged past its 2017 self by 4 percent. That year, it handled 867,049 flights.

It's the first time since 2007 that total operations at O'Hare topped 900,000, the FAA said.

Globally, O'Hare comes in second for number of connecting flights it provides, Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner Jamie Rhee said. The global champ is the United Kingdom's Heathrow Airport.

"Our greatest strength is our position right in middle of the country that allows us to serve a lot of different markets," Rhee said.

The airport is positioned to grow with a new runway set to open in 2020 followed by a runway extension in 2021. "We're almost finished with modernizing the airfield and getting a modern parallel runway system," Rhee said.

With the airfield project wrapping up, the city is now focusing on picking an architecture firm to design its Global Terminal, which will replace Terminal 2 and handle international flights.

That project will also enable an entrance and facility on the western side of the airport with connections to other terminals, a development long sought by the surrounding suburbs.

Currently, the aviation department is focusing on plans for the first stage of western access - a parking lot to accommodate airport employees who will enter using an express road being built by the Illinois tollway, Rhee said.

The busiest day at O'Hare was June 27, followed by June 14 and July 19.

Midway International Airport hosted 243,322 flights, a drop of 3.2 percent compared to 2017.

The number of passengers at O'Hare also grew in 2018 with 83.4 million traveling through the airport, a 4.5 percent jump from 2017.

Aviation expert Joseph Schwieterman said major expansions by American and United are partly responsible for O'Hare's growth spurt.

"These carriers took a great deal of risk by adding so many new flights but are now reaping the benefits due to very strong consumer demand," Schwieterman, a DePaul University professor, said in a December interview

"The boom in air travel across the country has benefited O'Hare more than other major hubs, including Atlanta, which is good news for travelers throughout our region."

O'Hare last held the title in 2014.

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