Who gets night noise? Debate on runways resuming

Tough decisions redrafting nighttime jet noise patterns around O'Hare International Airport start next month when an advisory group considers which runways to use in a weekly rotation.

Construction of a sixth parallel runway and the extension of an existing one on the north airfield will wrap up in the next two years.

Traditionally, O'Hare's Fly Quiet program uses a limited number of runways for overnight arrivals and departures. By the end of 2021, however, at least eight runways should be available to be slotted into a weekly nighttime rotation.

"I for one think we should contemplate using all the runways the FAA will make available to us. It's the best way to optimize the rotation," Schaumburg Transportation Director Karyn Robles said Thursday at the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission's Fly Quiet committee meeting.

But without knowing what disturbances the new runway will cause, "I'm conflicted about what it means for residents," commission member Cathy Dunlap of Chicago said. "It's not an automatic for me."

Committee members are expected to start specifying runways to use in the rotation at November's meeting.

"You will need to decide what pavement is in play," Chicago Department of Aviation Deputy Commissioner Aaron Frame said. "The process will not move forward until this is confirmed."

Any rotation plan will require a vote by the full noise commission and is subject to federal approval.

Another complexity is the fact pilots can opt out of using runways scheduled for nighttime rotation. This happened during test rotations in 2017 and 2016 when O'Hare's longest runway, stretching 13,000 feet, was often preferred for takeoffs by international cargo jets, creating a din over suburbs like Wood Dale. The fact the new and extended runways on the north airfield will be longer than 11,000 feet and are convenient to cargo areas could solve that problem, experts said Thursday.

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