O'Hare runway rotation to relieve jet noise could start in May

Sleepless residents living near O'Hare International Airport could decide for themselves if an overnight runway rotation system brings noise relief as soon as May, although variables such as wind direction mean the schedule isn't carved in stone.

Members of the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission Tuesday agreed to test rotating flights weekly between 11 p.m. and approximately 5 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. on one arrival and one departure runway with the goal of evenly distributing jet noise across the city and suburbs.

But consensus eluded the ONCC task force on another initiative that creates "Fly Quiet" zones for late night, overnight and dawn hours, with some saying it fell short.

Chicago Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans called the weekly rotation plan "a hugely important step today - but it is a gradual, incremental process of improvement. In the interim, the idea is to get quick relief for people starting this summer."

The city intends to try the runway rotation plan starting in May or June and get feedback from residents and the Federal Aviation Administration. More than six runways would be in rotation for arrivals and departures including one diagonal runway scheduled to be retired in 2020. Runways on the far north and south of the airfield won't be used because they close overnight.

O'Hare switched to a new predominantly east/west flow in fall 2013, which caused outrage in communities getting an unexpected jet din. Although 70 percent of flights are coming or going in a westerly direction, planners expect more flexibility with east flow overnight when wind is usually reduced.

But one expert argued for rotating runways on a daily basis instead of weekly. Craig Burzych, an aviation consultant with the Suburban O'Hare Commission, said issues such as low visibility, clearing off snow or construction could unexpectedly take out a runway.

"If you tell people, 'the second week in August, you won't have noise,' how do you predict that? People may not expect noise and then have it," Burzych said.

Some residents argued that the city's original voluntary Fly Quiet program, ostensibly from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., was being weakened by approving additional runway use. The city recommends two departure runways be used from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. and two arrival runways be used from 5 a.m. or so until 7 a.m.

Des Plaines Alderman Malcolm Chester said he's concerned about a proposed increase in the use of Runway 22-Right that would mean more noise for village residents after a quiet spell.

"It may be Fly Quiet for some people but it's not for us," Chester said.

City officials said Fly Quiet isn't working as it is now.

Tuesday's vote by an ONCC advisory group will go to the full board for a decision in March.

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