When Ginger Evans became commissioner of the Chicago Dept. of Aviation in 2015, airlines that serve O’Hare International Airport were not talking to the agency because of a failed earlier expansion plan that had to be mediated by then-U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “It was intense, and both sides had heartfelt opinions,” Evans says. “Negotiations were supposed to have started a year and a half earlier and they hadn’t. Neither side’s positions had changed. The place was bursting at the seams.”

Almost 80 million passengers traveled through O’Hare in 2017. The current $8.5-billion overhaul will double the airport’s size. Plans call for a new customs processing center in a global terminal and the renovation of three other terminals. Ramp space for larger aircraft will be increased by 25%. Gates will increase in number to 235 from 185.

Evans had to bring angry airlines to the table, come up with a solution for two failing taxiways, reorganize the busiest airport in the U.S. to add more gates and find a way to pay for it. She had the credentials—30 years of aviation experience. Evans even earned the ENR Award of Excellence in 1994 for slashing red tape and politics while managing construction of the Denver International Airport.

“Once you got rid of those two troublesome taxiways, it gave O’Hare 450 acres of developable land, a staggering amount to add gates, which is what we needed to do to bring the airlines on board,” Evans says. When she pointed that out to United Airlines executives, they said if the department made that change so they could improve the terminals, they would agree to a deal. Bonds issued for construction will be paid back by American, United, Delta and Spirit airlines through gate fees.

She has since given a workshop to a group of the top 20 U.S. airport administrators on “How to Get to Yes with the Airlines.” Evans left Chicago last summer to return to consulting after she completed the O’Hare deal.

“She paid attention to the details like no other airport director I’ve ever met,” says Blaine Peters, Delta Air Lines’ regional director of corporate real estate. “She completed a lease and reached agreement on massive investments on a compact schedule. I can’t imagine anyone else would’ve been able to accomplish what she did.”

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