O'Hare airpot jet noise foes get 'victory' in runway fight

Pressure over O'Hare jet noise finally got the ear of Chicago leaders who will ask the FAA to keep a key diagonal runway open at least long enough to hear from residents who want it to stay open.

An agreement between state lawmakers and Chicago also means sit-down meetings with one of the loudest critics of a new east-west flight pattern, the Fair Allocation of Runways (FAiR) coalition.

The group is "excited by the victory - we have demanded a seat at the table - now the table is here and we have a seat," FAiR co-founder Jac Charlier said Tuesday.

The move validates Chicago and suburban residents' complaints about the drastic increase in planes, noise and pollution, Charlier added.

Diagonal Runway 14 Left/32 Right, once an O'Hare workhorse, was set to retire before a new one opens in October. The decommissioning is part of the city's shift to an east-west flight pattern intended to be safer, more efficient and increase capacity but the resultant din has troubled neighborhoods near and far from the airport.

Airport activists contend keeping two diagonal runways open will distribute noise more evenly around the region.

Until recently, the city has been immovable in its O'Hare expansion campaign but during the spring election campaign Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he could be flexible on runway usage.

If past comments are any indication, it's likely the FAA will acquiesce with keeping Runway 14-Left/32 Right open.

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

For Charlier, "it is the city's decision, not the feds. If the diagonals close, it will be the city and mayor who hold that - 100 percent."

The FAA has promised to hold four public hearings prior to the mid-October debut of a new east/west runway on the south end of the airfield. An Illinois House resolution acknowledging the agreement with Chicago states the city will encourage the FAA to hold those meetings in communities directly affected by plane noise.

It also promises three meetings with FAiR and Chicago officials.

Relief couldn't come soon enough for Wayne resident Claudia Stlaske.

"We are miles away from O'Hare, but you sure wouldn't know it by the continual aircraft flying over our community the last few days," Stlaske said Tuesday.

"With the exception of this morning, it's been one plane after another pretty much continually. Some are shockingly low and loud. I cannot imagine how horrible life must now be for those living closer to O'Hare."

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