Pyke: New O'Hare noise could force a change of course

Now let's get this straight ... or diagonal.

Since 2001, millions have been spent in taxes and fees to build parallel runways at O'Hare International Airport in the name of improving safety and landing more planes.

Now we have a parallel runway system that runs east/west - and people hate it. The continual vibrations and cacophony of jets are making life miserable in suburban neighborhoods where noise wasn't a problem before.

The din even became an issue in the Chicago election, and on March 31 Mayor Rahm Emanuel cast aside years of city dogma by showing flexibility on using diagonal runways to distribute the noise.

"O'Hare has to be a good resident," Emanuel said on WTTW's "Chicago Tonight." "Now the solution to this is getting the FAA to expedite its study so we can actually have O'Hare ... to actually have all the runways used at an appropriate time."

So is this seismic shift for real?

"It's good to hear," said Jac Charlier, co-founder of the anti-noise group Fair Allocation in Runways, or FAIR, which has pushed for retaining all diagonal runways.

"The mayor has finally spoken about O'Hare and used words like 'solution' and 'diagonal.'" Charlier said.

The next step, he said, is to involve all stakeholders in a dialogue. "The only voice missing has been his voice," Charlier said of Emanuel. "He owns this issue."

But how easy is a 180-degree turn on O'Hare modernization? The federal government studied O'Hare expansion for years before signing off on the plan that's now under fire.

"The city manages the opening and closing of runways, and the FAA will use all available runways in the safest and most efficient way," FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro said.

The O'Hare modernization plan would build or extend six parallel runways to handle east/west flights. It would keep two diagonal runways and retire two others (14Left/32Right and 14Right/32Left), which were heavily used but now handle only about 3 percent of all daytime flights. State law limits the number of O'Hare runways in use to eight.

U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, a Chicago Democrat, said he's already "working with the city, state and the FAA to keep diagonal runways open to disperse air traffic and noise pollution. I will continue to pursue every avenue that reduces noise without compromising safety."

And Sen. Dick Durbin said he is "open to suggestions to the way planes take off, the way they land, noise abatement."

"I'm not wedded to one or the other," Durbin said.

For some context on safety, I talked to Bryan Zilonis, regional vice president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

Air traffic controllers are neutral and will carry out whatever the FAA and city order, Zilonis said. However, a parallel system "makes it much more efficient and safer. When runways converge or cross, the spacing between aircraft is increased," which reduces efficiency. "The runways are not independent of each other. If one is being used, the converging or crossing runway is not."

Zilonis said he "would not call it unsafe" with diagonal runways, but there is an opportunity for error to occur that does not exist using parallels.

An outsider might see coming full circle on runways "absurd," DePaul University transportation expert Joseph Schwieterman said.

"Admittedly nothing is easy with changing federal policy, but if there's a will, there's a way. I think the FAA sees it created a small monster and it can't simply hide behind the bureaucracy. It needs to show it's being responsive."

One more thing

Speaking on "Chicago Tonight," Emanuel repeated he had asked the FAA to accelerate an airport "study."

"Now, I have called and written a letter to the FAA to speed up the report, so we can evenly take all the runways - so no two communities on the flight pattern bear all the burden for O'Hare's growth," the mayor said.

However, the study is not the re-evaluation of an environmental impact study that congressmen and mayors want expedited. Instead, it's a study of decibel levels that could affect soundproofing subsidies.

Thoughts on airport noise? Drop me an email at

Your voice

Reader Don Comiskey emailed about "how many lives are being affected (ruined) by the runway changes at O'Hare. We live 30 miles west of O'Hare, in the West Chicago/Wayne area, and we are getting barraged with the constant noise of unsightly low-flying jets."

Gridlock alert

I'm not going to sugarcoat this. I'm just going to give it to you straight.

• In Libertyville, watch out for resurfacing lane closures on Route 137 as of Monday between Butterfield Road and Route 21.

• In Grayslake, beware lane closures on Route 83 near Center Street for roadwork.

• From Buffalo Grove to Libertyville, watch for lane closures on Route 21 starting at Lake-Cook Road.

• In the Rosemont area, check for long-term lane closures on Higgins Road (Route 72) this week through June as part of the Jane Addams rebuild.

Cast your vote

"Accessorize! Wear your seat belt." That's just one of the slogans you can vote on now through April 17 as part of an Illinois Tollway contest. The agency will use the top three adages on its digital roadway signs. Categories are distracted driving, seat belts and impaired driving. To vote, go to

Runway noise takes a toll on the suburbs

O'Hare noise complaints deserve action

O'Hare noise monitors only go so far, suburban officials say

Suburbs putting new O'Hare noise on ballots

Suburban lawmakers press to speed up O'Hare noise review

'Living in a war zone:' Residents, mayors blast O'Hare noise

Discontent over jet noise grows

Durbin, Oberweis interested in O'Hare noise solutions

O'Hare noise rising as suburban election issue

O'Hare on a high after beating Atlanta

Aircraft din raising a ruckus in mayoral election

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.