CHICAGO — Jetliners roared down O'Hare's newest runway as Chicago officials cheerfully touted the latest piece of a decade-long overhaul as a tipping point that could cut delays in half and dramatically improve the reputation for bottlenecks at one of the nation's busiest airports.
But in the year and a half since that celebratory event, delays have been even more common than in the five years before the strip opened, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.
"It just shows the problem is bigger than concrete," aviation consultant Michael Boyd said. "It's like building more on-ramps to a freeway that's already congested."
From the runway's opening in October 2013 through this past March, nearly 28 percent of departures have been delayed, compared with 22 percent over the five previous years, according to the latest available data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Arrival delays tracked a similar 6 percentage point increase, hitting 26 percent. The jump was double the national increase.
The poor results raise the prospect that the complexity and enormity of O'Hare, combined with its vulnerability to problems originating elsewhere in the nation's air system, will sometimes swamp whatever performance gains come from the more efficient design that planners are etching into the 72-year-old airfield.
O'Hare's $9 billion program, funded in large measure by fees passed on to the public in flight tickets, ultimately envisions eight runways, six of them parallel, compared with seven crisscrossing runways before.
However, flights out of O'Hare arrived on schedule at their destinations less than 68 percent of the time last year, the worst result out of the last seven years.