American Airlines' objection to an $8.5 billion capital programme at Chicago O'Hare International airport hinges on three gates that it says the city will not include in the plans.
"We know there's the ability to add three more [gates] and we'd like three more," says Doug Parker, chairman and chief executive of the Fort Worth-based carrier, speaking with reporters on the sidelines of the US Chamber of Commerce Aviation Summit in Washington DC.
Chicago's plans to increase the number of gates at O'Hare by a quarter, or to roughly 220, under an eight-year capital programme announced on 28 February. The works would replace terminal 2, rebuild terminals 1 and 3, and expand terminal 5, while concourses B and C would be extended and a new satellite built to the west of concourse C.
American told employees the same day that it could not support the works because it would widen the "gate gap" between itself and United Airlines, which operates its largest hub at O'Hare.
That gap would increase by five gates under the plan, Parker says, emphasising that American would be happy with just the three additional gates it is seeking.
United says the five gates in question are in response to the five-gate "stinger" extension to concourse L at O'Hare that American will open in April. It calls the carrier's objections "disingenuous".
American paid for the stinger extension while the O'Hare capital programme would be funded by airport revenues, including fees collected from airlines and passengers.
Asked how American came to object to the programme, while supporting expansion at O'Hare, Parker says some "miscommunication" occurred.
Chicago can move forward with the works with or without American's support, FlightGlobal understands.
Parker frames the dispute in terms of competition, saying more gates will allow it to add more flights at O'Hare – something that would benefit the city.
"Generally, cities like to have competition as much as possible," he says. "It's their suicide."
Chicago O'Hare is one of the few airports in the USA with two large airline hubs. American had a 35.6% share of seats and United a 44.3% share in 2017, FlightGlobal schedules show.
The airport was the third busiest in the USA after Atlanta and Los Angeles in 2017, handling 79.8 million passengers, airport data shows.
The city of Chicago was not immediately available to comment on American's objection to the capital programme.
The story was updated to reflect that Chicago can move forward with the capital programme without American's support