CHICAGO — Chicago Mayor Richard Daley on Thursday questioned the sincerity of American Airlines and United Airlines' willingness to meet with him in an attempt to resolve differences over the timing and financing of $3.36 billion worth of expansion projects at O'Hare International Airport.
Daley and executives from American and United were scheduled to meet Thursday but the airlines canceled the meeting, citing the massive winter storm that battered the Midwest and temporarily shut down Chicago's O'Hare and Midway Airports.
The meeting was arranged to try to settle a legal standoff over the remaining runway projects that are part of an $8 billion expansion at O'Hare. The airlines filed a lawsuit late last month seeking to halt construction of the disputed projects and to ban any future general airport revenue bond issuance.
The dispute over whether Chicago can proceed with its financing plans for the projects without airline approval forced the city to put off a $1.1 billion sale of bonds secured by passenger facility charges and federal grants. The bonds were scheduled to sell this week but officials last week pulled the deal.
At a news conference Thursday intended to provide a public update on the city's response to the storm, Daley was asked about the canceled airline meeting and he questioned whether the airlines are sincere about wanting to reschedule.
"How about Friday, how about Saturday?" Daley said he asked the carriers.
"I was going to meet with them Sunday," the mayor said of his willingness to break the tradition he has held over his two decades in office of not working Sundays. "I just wonder if they're waiting for a certain date in February … saying the mayor won't be around."
The mayoral election is Feb. 22 and Daley is not seeking a seventh term. If no candidate garners more than 50% of the vote, the top two vote-getters face a March 5 runoff. The next mayor takes office in May.
United spokesman Michael Trevino said the airlines are committed to rescheduling a meeting but the carriers continue to deal with operational problems in the aftermath of the storm. "The meeting was postponed because of the weather and operational issues and we are working to reschedule it," he said.
Chicago wants to complete the O'Hare Modernization Program by 2014, but the airlines want the city to adhere to a schedule that is tied to operational triggers based on passenger and flight growth and so have refused to sign off on the projects.
The price tag on the final phase is $3.36 billion. The city has completed financing for the first $3.3 billion phase that airlines previously approved. Plans for a new $2 billion terminal that is part of the overall program remain on hold.
The city has filed a motion to dismiss the case and a hearing is scheduled before Cook County Circuit Court Judge Richard Billik Jr. on Feb. 8. The city has asked the judge to decide its motion before the next hearings scheduled for Feb. 22 and 23 on the airlines' request for a preliminary injunction blocking the completion phase projects or GARB issuance.