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NATCA Hails O'Hare Expansion Agreement, Opening of New Runway in Detroit as Major Steps Toward Increasing System Capacity - (12/11/2001)

WASHINGTON – Against the backdrop of traffic reports showing air travelers are slowly returning to the skies, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association is hailing last week’s announcement of a deal to expand Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and today’s opening ceremony for a new runway in Detroit as important steps toward improving the capacity – and safety – of the nation’s airport infrastructure.

“Before the tragic events of Sept. 11, the main issue was traffic congestion and our battle cry solution was to build 50 miles of new runways at the busiest airports,” NATCA President John Carr said. “Obviously, priorities have changed from capacity to security, but we continue to believe in the importance of building new runways and expanding airports to accommodate what we truly hope will be a near-future growth in traffic and passengers. Our new battle cry? Let’s get America flying again.”

In Chicago, Mayor Richard Daley and Illinois Governor George Ryan have agreed on an O’Hare expansion plan which NATCA is pleased with. It features an eight-runway configuration that will nearly double the capacity of the airport. Included is a new runway along the southern edge of the airport which NATCA views as critical. “The south runway was the key to the whole proposal. Using that runway, we will benefit from additional capacity regardless of the weather conditions,” said Craig Burzych, president of the local NATCA chapter at O’Hare. “We will need to address and fine tune a few things, but this is a huge step in the right direction. It's long overdue.”

At Detroit Metro Airport, air traffic controllers at the nation’s sixth-busiest Federal Aviation Administration control tower will soon have a fourth parallel runway to use. Today’s ceremony opens the airport’s first new runway in eight years. It is the only runway scheduled to open at a major airport through 2002. The new 10,000-foot runway will give the airport a capacity increase of 25 percent more takeoffs and landings in good weather and 17 percent more in bad weather, according to the FAA. Even more importantly, the added concrete will increase the safety margin for aircraft taxiing between runways and terminals. “The fourth parallel not only increases the airport capacity, it allows controllers to work aircraft more efficiently,” stated Vince Sugent, president of the local NATCA chapter at the Detroit tower. “Controllers also receive additional, more preferable options with arriving and departing aircraft, which adds to the safety factor.”

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