Nightly runway rotation at O'Hare could be back

There's momentum to launch another overnight runway rotation test at O'Hare International Airport, with a possible decision in February.

O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission leaders said Friday they're open to the idea, which is intended to distribute nighttime jet noise more equitably around the region.

The redo would not duplicate the original that ran from July 6 to Dec. 25. Instead, authorities expect some changes based on lessons learned and feedback from air traffic controllers.

The Federal Aviation Administration and city of Chicago also need to sign off on any plans. Neither entity offered objections at a noise commission meeting, but much depends on an analysis of the six-month trial to be discussed at a Feb. 8 meeting.

"We're looking for incremental improvements, not wholesale changes," noise commission Chairwoman and Mount Prospect Mayor Arlene Juracek said. "The process is set up so we can propose a tweaked rotation and hopefully get some approvals to test it for a sixth-month period."

The rotation, which was voluntary, operated from about 11 p.m. to roughly 5:30 a.m. It used different configurations each week of parallel and diagonal, long and short, and east and west runways.

"If they want to look at another test we're open to it," FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro said.

Numerous communities, such as Bensenville and Wood Dale, welcomed it for providing residents with much-needed shut-eye on certain weeks.

But in towns like Schaumburg and Des Plaines, the reaction wasn't as positive when unexpected jet noise disturbed homeowners.

"I'm a little skeptical, that's my official reaction," Des Plaines Alderman Malcolm Chester said, adding he also questioned talk of a third rotation test.

The noise commission's Fly Quiet Committee Chairman Joseph Annunzio said the first test gave relief to numerous households but "some inherent problems" need to be resolved.

The Daily Herald reported in July that some air traffic controllers recommended keeping one runway of at least 10,000 feet open at night to accommodate heavier jets and avoiding using a single runway for takeoffs and landings.

The FAA also will likely seek revisions to ensure all taxiing airplanes are kept away from active runways and that equipment used to tow aircraft is at a distance from departing jets.

Meanwhile, noise complaints from January 2016 through November tallied 4.7 million, up from 4.1 million in 2015, the city reported. Calls and emails about the jet din in November included 45,707 from Bensenville, 144,681 from Chicago, 26,675 from Elk Grove Village and 26,517 from Wood Dale.

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