By Mary Wisniewski
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Chicago's O'Hare International Airport opened a new runway on Thursday, which the city hopes can cut delays by nearly half, and allow for nearly 90,000 additional annual flights as demand grows.
The 10,800-foot (3,292-meter) runway, built over the site of a former cemetery, is part of the airport's $8 billion modernization project. When the expansion is complete, O'Hare expects to have six east-west parallel runways and two "crosswind" runways.
O'Hare handles the second largest number of passengers in the nation after Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, according to the Airports Council International. It has been notorious for delays due to congestion and Chicago's often wild weather.
For the 12 months ending July, 68.3 percent of O'Hare's departures were on time, compared to 72.1 for all major airports, according to U.S. Department of Transportation statistics.
The modernization project has already added one other runway, expanded another and added a new traffic control tower.
DePaul University transportation professor Joseph Schwieterman noted that the first new runway primarily served to improve operations when the weather got bad, but this new one is about expansion.
"There are exciting opportunities for new services, particularly by low-cost carriers," said Schwieterman. "You can envision a new carrier muscling its way into O'Hare, with a boost in price competition."
The new 10C-28C runway is 200 feet wide and Chicago's first "Group VI" capable runway, meaning it can accommodate the largest aircraft, including the Boeing 747-8 and the A380. Traffic at O'Hare will now primarily flow to and from the east and west, which the city claims will increase maximum arrival and departure rates in all weathers, according to the city.
Not everyone is happy with the addition - neighborhood groups have complained that the new runway will increase noise pollution and air in Chicago's Northwest Side neighborhoods.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)