Emanuel says airport noise opponents will get extra time at FAA hearings

Residents will get extra opportunities to sound off about O'Hare International Airport before the opening of a new runway on the facility's south side, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday.

The move to increase public meetings from two scheduled ones to four followed a meeting with Federal Aviation Administrator Michael Huerta in Washington, D.C., Emanuel said.

"The residents who live near O'Hare deserve every opportunity to share their thoughts and views about O'Hare with federal officials, and I'm glad the FAA has agreed to hold more public meetings," Emanuel said in a statement. "I know Michael Huerta takes public feedback very seriously."

"This is a challenging issue, and we need all voices at the table as we work together to ensure O'Hare remains an economic engine for our city, while being a good neighbor to those who live nearby."

Huerta said the "FAA has always been committed to a full and open process that provides those who work and live near the airport with an opportunity to be heard."

The agency had originally planned for two 12-hour meetings but agreed to double those, Huerta said. Details of the meetings will be released later.

The O'Hare modernization plan, approved by the FAA, allows for the creation or expansion of six parallel runways. The new system is supposed to be more efficient and safer and increase airport capacity.

But after the airport switched to a primarily east-west pattern of departures and arrivals in late 2013, complaints haven't stopped coming in about the parallel system.

Most affected are Chicago neighborhoods and suburbs closest to the airport, but homeowners as far away as West Chicago have asked for relief.

Many anti-noise advocates are asking that two diagonal runways intended to be decommissioned be kept, although that bucks the FAA-approved modernization plan and would require legislative action.

Pressure from homeowners forced O'Hare to be an election issue.

During his recent mayoral campaign, Emanuel said he would be open to keeping the diagonals open in an attempt to more evenly distribute noise.

The newest east-west runway at the far south end of O'Hare is scheduled to be completed this fall.

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