As the first new runway in Chicago in 37 years is set to open Thursday, major airlines serving O'Hare International Airport have unanimously called for halting the next phase of the ambitious expansion project, according to documents obtained exclusively by the Tribune.
American Airlines and United Airlines, the two largest carriers at the airport, said the O'Hare plan is flawed, according to the statements sent to city and federal authorities that oppose more spending on the project.
They called Chicago's effort to move ahead with the project "premature and inappropriate" because of the decline in air travel and the airline industry's uncertain future.
Delta Air Lines executives said Chicago failed to do its homework and they accused the city of mounting an "impulsive grab for [tax] funds."
Marking an unprecedented break with City Hall that contradicts the public appearance of solidarity on the $15 billion O'Hare project, executives at six of O'Hare's largest airlines advised city planners in letters sent this summer to downsize the large-scale remake of the airport to better fit the new economic realities of the struggling industry.
The airlines' position poses the latest threat to Mayor Richard Daley's efforts to modernize cramped and outdated facilities at O'Hare by 2014, a process critical to Chicago's bid to land the 2016 Olympics.
Watch a report on the airlines' criticisms: