Chicago ready to spread out noise from O'Hare

Sharing the pain by rotating runways is how Chicago Department of Aviation officials intend to give some relief at night for city and suburban residents kept awake by the din of jets.

Federal lawmakers and local mayors called the city's plan, announced Friday, a positive step, but some anti-noise advocates and lawmakers wondered why Chicago wasn't keeping two diagonal runways open.

Complaints from residents surged after O'Hare switched to a parallel runway system in fall 2013. Chicago Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans said once all six parallel runways are built, noise will be more evenly distributed.

The city didn't set out whether rotations would be for days or weeks but suggested using "a dedicated runway for arrivals and a dedicated runway for departures" at night. Specific runways haven't been selected yet.

"It's a very ambitious plan and a very aggressive proposal," Evans said. "For citizens to have nighttime noise one week out of four or five is a significant reduction in noise for citizens today."

Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson, a Suburban O'Hare Commission member, called the rotation plan "innovative" and said he was realizing the diagonal runways would not continue.

"What can give us relief down the road is actually the full build-out of O'Hare," Johnson said.

"For me to say those words ... I'm surprised my tongue doesn't fly off," the longtime airport watchdog added.

However, Jac Charlier, co-founder of the Fair Allocation in Runways, said at a meeting with city officials and the Suburban O'Hare Commission it was "the wrong time" to close the diagonal runways. "We do not consider this issue of the diagonals dead," he added.

The city didn't back down from closing one diagonal runway (14L/32R) this fall that FAIR fought to keep open. The plan does allow for continuing to use another diagonal (14R/32L) for flights departing to the west until the final parallel runway is built on the north end of the airfield by 2020.

Evans said the 14/32 diagonals intersect with other runways and represent a high risk of runway incursions. They wouldn't be approved by the FAA today, she said, noting "those runways are fatally flawed" and inefficient and reduce capacity in bad weather.

Evans noted that the pavement on the diagonals is a different elevation from the parallel runways that would cost millions to fix if they were to remain.

Another roadblock is one diagonal would interfere with construction of the western bypass around O'Hare by the Illinois Tollway, Evans said.

Federal lawmakers differed.

"We believe the diagonal runways remain necessary for efficiency, safety and noise abatement," said Democratic congressmen Mike Quigley, Tammy Duckworth and Jan Schakowsky in a statement.

But state Rep. Marty Moylan of Des Plaines said Chicago's rotation idea is "a great first move that offers much-needed relief. I'd also encourage them to do the same thing for daytime flights,"

There are four diagonal runways at O'Hare and four existing parallels with one set to open Oct. 15 and another in 2020. Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a law Thursday allowing 10 runways to operate at once instead of eight.

"It's not fair after all the hard work legislators did," Moylan said, adding he feared Chicago just "played lip service" to the effort.

The rotation concept needs to be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration and the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission, a coalition of suburbs near O'Hare and city neighborhoods.

"I'm glad to see the city is open to consider a number of alternatives," commission Chairwoman and Mount Prospect Mayor Arlene Juracek said. But she noted that the one-runway at night approach is "fine for those whose noise level goes down, but we need a buy-in for those whose noise may go up."

Bensenville Village President Frank Soto praised the city for planning to provide more soundproofing and update existing homes, noting some of the existing soundproofing is 20 years old.

"There's a recognition of those closest to the airport, and we've not seen that before," he said.

Currently the bulk of O'Hare flights - 70 percent - follow a "west flow" pattern, with flights landing from the east and departing to the west.

It's in the region's interest to balance runway use so the 70/30 percent split is closer to 60/40, Evans said.

FAIR members say using the diagonals distributes planes over fewer residential areas.

Evans said the city is committed to completing O'Hare modernization, which includes building a sixth parallel runway on the north section of O'Hare and extending an existing one. That comes despite financial challenges and pushback from United and American Airlines.

Planners said more parallel runways on the north would decrease noise southeast of O'Hare, noting the south airfield will get higher use from 2015 to 2021.

Welcome progress in O'Hare noise battle

A Chicago pivot on diagonal runways?

Bensenville loud and clear in jet noise report

Forums on O'Hare runway expansion, noise set for August

Is O'Hare's noisy new flight path irreversible?

New runway could mean more jet noise for some in suburbs

Quiet O'Hare noise at night? Aviation commissioner says she'll try

  Noise complaints from residents in Bensenville and other suburbs surged after O'Hare switched to a parallel runway system in fall 2013. Joe Lewnard/
  A plane climbs above the Hillside Drive neighborhood in Bensenville after takeoff from O'Hare International Airport. Joe Lewnard/
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