The commissioning of a new runway at O'Hare International Airport next October will fundamentally change how air traffic moves in the region, creating a safer environment but one that could be noisier for some residents.
Towns expected to incur more noise as of Oct. 17, 2013, when a new parallel runway system kicks into high gear, include Park Ridge and Wood Dale, while some communities where it should be a little quieter are Elk Grove Village, Franklin Park and Northlake.
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"You'll see more flights coming from the west, going to the west, coming from east, going to the east," FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro said.
The new runway "will change the way we operate," said the Federal Aviation Administration's Bob Flynn, air traffic manager at the O'Hare tower. "We'll go from the various configurations to an east-west operation almost 100 percent (of the time)."
Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie S. Andolino promised the city would meet with communities surrounding O'Hare to discuss the changes in the next 11 months.
Local mayors who listened to the runway briefing at an O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission meeting Friday intend to take them up on the offer.
"Wood Dale's going to be heavily impacted by the new runway," said Mayor Nunzio Pulice, who would like to see flight patterns affect homes less. "Why can't some of these planes be turned over the industrial parks and the highways?"
Mount Prospect Mayor Irvana Wilks said conversations between the department of aviation and residents "need to be a two-way street. If you tell people the truth, they'll be able to assimilate it," she said.
Commissioning the runway, dubbed 10C/28C or 10-Center/28-Center, will mark the completion of the first phase of an airfield rebuild allowing for six parallel runways.
The modernization plan calls for reducing use of existing, crisscrossing runways that stretch diagonally across the airport, meaning fewer flights in northwest and southeast directions.
"It's a lot more efficient. If there's bad weather we'll be able to handle a lot more flights. When you have a lot of parallel runways it's a lot safer at an airport," Molinaro said.
"Change is inevitable, but growth and progress is optional," said Arlington Heights Mayor and O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission Chairwoman Arlene Mulder. "Our challenge is to work with it and do the best we can."
For years, the project was embroiled in a legal battle between Chicago and families with loved ones buried in the former St. Johannes Cemetery, located right in the middle of the runway. The city prevailed in court, however, and more than 1,400 graves have been relocated.
The new runway stretches 10,800 feet long by 200 feet wide and is capable of handling large aircraft such as the Boeing 747-800.
"It will be used predominantly for arrivals in all weather conditions," aviation department Assistant Commissioner Frank Grimaldi said.
As of next October, O'Hare will have the capacity to handle significantly more flights. For example, east-to-west departures in good weather could jump from 100 flights an hour to a potential 150, the FAA estimated. Officials noted, however, that growth like that won't happen overnight and is contingent on the economy.
With the changes, 70 percent of aircraft movements are anticipated to be east to west and 30 percent will be west to east.
Finishing the runway marks the end of Phase One of what's called the O'Hare Modernization Program. Phase One includes extending a runway and building 10-Center/28-Center on the south end of O'Hare plus another runway on the far north side, completed in 2008.
Phase Two includes constructing a runway on the south tip of O'Hare slated for a 2015 completion, plus a new runway and an extended runway on the north side of the airfield set for commissioning in 2020.
Originally, all three Phase Two projects were supposed to have been commissioned together. But a dispute between Chicago and United and American Airlines over funding has made building the new north runway an issue expected to be negotiated in 2013.
Park Ridge Mayor Dave Schmidt said it's time to come up with revised data on airport noise.
"The noise contour map was developed years ago and doesn't reflect the actual situation," Schmidt said.
City officials said they are now seeking a third-party contractor to conduct an environmental re-evaluation of Phase Two. The focus will be on re-evaluating the impact of separating the completion dates, Coordinator of Special Projects Gregg Cunningham said.
O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission members also approved soundproofing 986 homes and multifamily homes in Chicago and Park Ridge as part of an ongoing program paid for by Chicago.
Shifting patterns in aircraft noise are expected to continue as the modernization program continues.