New approach to dispersing O'Hare noise could spell nighttime relief

Vector headings? It sounds like a reference from the movie "Solo," but aviation experts hope tweaking the direction jets fly when departing O'Hare will mean sweet dreams for residents.

Or at least less noise at night.

The suggestion is one of the new ideas under consideration from local officials and concerned citizens who this month began crafting a solution to overnight noise from O'Hare International Airport jets.

"Vector headings" is aviation jargon for a point on the compass pilots fly to when leaving O'Hare. The O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission's Fly Quiet Committee will consider altering that direction to avoid residential areas as it develops a long-term overnight protocol for when the airport's final parallel runway (9-Center/27-Center) is finished in November 2020 and another runway (9-Right/27-Left) is extended on the north airfield in 2021.

Previously, the group had focused on rotating runways as a way to distribute airplane din.

"If you can rotate headings on top of runways you could get even more noise dispersion," said Craig Burzych, an air traffic controller who is now a consultant with JDA Aviation Technology Solutions, which advises the Suburban O'Hare Commission.

In the daytime with flights swarming around, the airport is locked into a system that favors a steady stream of planes landing and departing east/west for maximum efficiency and safety. During less busy Fly Quiet hours between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., there's an opportunity to change an aircraft's heading and send it over industrial areas, toll roads or forest preserves, and that's something Burzych hopes the committee will dig into.

Changing a heading may sound easy, but it's not. The Federal Aviation Authority will need to review any revisions and decide if they're safe. Neighborhoods will be on tenterhooks in case they get an unexpected earful from 747s at 3 a.m.

"It's a very big deal," Chicago Aviation Department Deputy Commissioner Aaron Frame said at a Tuesday meeting.

"If you want to change the departure headings for nighttime noise, that will take a lot of discussion ... you're going to have to come to consensus."

Such consensus was elusive in December 2017, when the full ONCC board split 51-9 on regional lines over a temporary runway rotation that will begin when the FAA issues approval and last until 9-Center/27-Center is built.

The stakes are higher this time. Got a comment on airport noise? Drop us an email at

Your voice

Reader Mark Reiter took issue with a column on the automatic braking system called Positive Train Control saying "the technology stops a train when a crash is imminent." Reiter wrote that "not in all cases does PTC stop a crash before an accident, PTC can't let a train know if a truck or car is stuck on a track or if there is a problem on an adjacent track. Hopefully relief is coming quick for those riding the BNSF as they ready PTC this year, going to guess the same headaches will appear on other lines as well. Hopefully they learn from what BNSF is going through."

Gridlock alert

Sorry Tri-State nation, work to widen the Illinois tollway's workhorse means driving angst. Advance construction work will close the outside shoulders for repairs in both directions of the Tri-State Tollway (I-294) between Franklin Park and Rosemont through June. Once complete, traffic shifts will occur on the same stretch for resurfacing and widening work.

But wait, there's more! The tollway is repairing Tri-State bridges between Cermak Road in Westchester and 5th Avenue in Countryside, which means overnight lane closures now through early July.

Transit crystal ball

Love transit? Want more? "We need to grapple with and plan for an uncertain future," the Metropolitan Planning Council says in announcing a transit round table. The Chicago Region's Transit Future forum runs from noon to 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 31, at the MPC's offices, 140 S. Dearborn St., Chicago. It features heads of the RTA, Metra, CTA and Pace. To register, go to

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