) -- After two years of shrinking at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, hub carriers
are both growing again, adding dozens of new flights there even as other carriers continue to pull back their international departures.
Increased dominance at key airports such as O'Hare, the world's second-busiest airport, is one more indication that the long-struggling U.S. airline industry managed to take advantage of the recession to strengthen itself.
The O'Hare increases will be closely watched because the airport, a hub for two of the three biggest airlines, has always been a chokepoint that, when weather is bad, can cause air traffic delays across the country. Capacity reductions across the industry have resulted in reduced delays at O'Hare, which has also benefited from a
that opened in October 2008.
According to figures compiled by OAG Aviation for
, the number of domestic flights at O'Hare this July will be 34,663, only 332 fewer than in July 2008.
United reduced capacity from 17,215 flights in July 2008 to 16,013 in July 2009. But in July 2010, it will have 17,595 flights, or 2% more than it had 2008. American cut back from 14,355 in July 2008 to 11,995 in July 2009. This July, it will operate 13,579 flights, or 5% fewer than two years earlier. Meanwhile, other domestic carriers at O'Hare continue to operate about 10% of the flights -- 3,489 of them this July, or 64 more than in July 2008. But United will have 51% of the total, up from 49% two years earlier, while American's share declined about 2% to 39%.
"American cut more in 2008 and added back more in 2010, but over the two years, American lost route coverage and departure share in comparison to United," said OAG consultant Sandy Rederer. This July, United will serve 121 domestic routes from O'Hare, while American will serve 100.
Meanwhile, the number of international departures at O'Hare in July fell from 1,634 in 2008 to 1,500 in July 2009, a decline of 8%. This July, the total will show a slight gain to 1,538 international departures.