Pyke: O'Hare noise complaints are up, FAA's holding firm. What's Plan B?

  • A plane flies low over Itasca's Washington Street. Jet noise complaints in Itasca went from 41 in July 2013 to 1,121 this July.

    A plane flies low over Itasca's Washington Street. Jet noise complaints in Itasca went from 41 in July 2013 to 1,121 this July. Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • A plane flies low over Itasca's Washington Street. Jet noise complaints in Itasca went from 41 in July 2013 to 1,121 this July.

    A plane flies low over Itasca's Washington Street. Jet noise complaints in Itasca went from 41 in July 2013 to 1,121 this July. Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • O'Hare noise complaints

    Graphic: O'Hare noise complaints (click image to open)

Updated 9/15/2014 9:57 AM

As noise complaints from communities affected by new O'Hare flight paths fly off the charts, one thing's remained constant: the Federal Aviation Administration's approach.

Despite pressure from lawmakers and outrage from residents, the agency isn't backing down or deviating from standard operating procedures. The stick-to-your-guns policy is encapsulated in a recent letter from FAA Administrator Michael Huerta to local congressmen, politely refusing to redo the O'Hare expansion plan that's changing the direction of takeoffs and landings.


"The modernization of O'Hare International Airport is needed to meet Chicago's short- and long-term aviation demands," Huerta wrote.

So where does that leave residents who want relief from the roar of jet engines? Recent data shows complaints about airplane noise in the region shot up from 2,280 in July 2013 to 27,956 this July.

"We're not through," said U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley Friday, sounding a little ticked-off.

Acknowledging he and colleagues Tammy Duckworth and Jan Schakowsky "hadn't had as much success as we'd like with the FAA," the Chicago Democrat said his next salvo will be a letter to Huerta from two dozen congressmen seeking to decrease the decibel levels that trigger free soundproofing.

"If they don't listen to three, they may listen to almost 30," Quigley added, noting he's got seniority on the Appropriations Committee that writes the FAA's checks. "I work with agencies like the FAA to get things done -- they can reciprocate by helping us help constituents."

The addition of new runways, including one commissioned last October, has shifted O'Hare flight patterns from multiple directions to an east-west flow. The change coincides with a safety directive from the NTSB to stop using runways that converge. The result is a drastic drop in flights on two diagonal runways, 14-Right/32-Left and 14-Left/32-Right -- and a racket in neighborhoods that peacefully coexisted with O'Hare previously.

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"I'd like some comfort the FAA and city of Chicago are doing everything they can to keep noise as low as possible," Itasca Mayor Jeff Pruyn told me last week. "I don't get that feeling."

Interestingly, Quigley thinks there's a chance the FAA may not mothball 14-Right and 14-Left when O'Hare modernization is done. During a meeting with Huerta, the administrator said retiring the runways "wasn't set in stone," Quigley recalled. If so, "that would be huge."

Here's a look at noise complaints from July 2013 and July 2014, according to the latest Chicago data:

• In Bensenville, calls about jet noise to the city in July 2014 totaled 4,815 compared to two in July 2013. Similar jumps occurred in: Elk Grove Village with two noise complaints in July 2013 and 1,167 in July 2014; Itasca with 41 complaints in July 2013 and 1,121 this July; Park Ridge with 164 in July 2013 and 1,119 in 2014; Wood Dale with 75 in 2013 and 3,841 in 2014.

Chicago reported 1,598 complaints in July 2013 and 12,215 this July.

• Communities that never called the hotline in July 2013 but got the lines buzzing this July included: Addison with 102 complaints, Glen Ellyn with 25, Schaumburg with 45, West Chicago with 22 and Wheaton with 10.


• But if you live in Elmhurst -- good news. Complaints dropped from 197 in July 2013 to 69.

One more thing

The anti-noise group FAIR thinks the road to quieter neighborhoods goes through City Hall. "The missing voice is Mayor Rahm Emanuel's," said FAIR co-founder Jac Charlier, who wants President Obama's former chief of staff to exert influence to get the FAA to reconsider.

"There's tens of thousands of voters on the Northwest Side. Why not speak on behalf of the voters?" Charlier asked.

With the Chicago mayoral election set for February, expect O'Hare to become an issue soon.

Merger in motion

The American Airlines and US Airways merger means changes for some travelers at O'Hare International Airport. Come Tuesday, all US Airways fliers will need to check in at Terminal 3 for flights instead of Terminal 2.

Your voice

Reader Irving Stone of Schaumburg has a compromise proposal for protesters on the I-355 overpass at the Great Western Trail.

"I believe the solution would be to allow protest signage on the bridge, as it is not much different from a billboard as a distraction, while limiting the loitering on the bridge as interfering with the public right of way for the bridge users, and being much more distracting to drivers than mere signage," he wrote.

Got an opinion? Drop me line at or follow me on Twitter at dhintransit. If you want to talk about O'Hare noise with like-minded folk, check out my Marni Pyke Transportation Facebook page today.

Gridlock alert

If you're a westbound I-90 commuter in the suburbs bored with current lane configurations, it's your lucky month. The Illinois tollway will be shifting I-90 westbound traffic between Route 20 in Elgin out to Rockford over the next four weeks, starting today.

Expect some lane closures overnight.

The tollway is moving westbound lanes back into the westbound section after a temporary displacement into the eastbound side.

You should know

Metra riders on the western end of the UP West Line should expect changes to midday and weekend schedules starting today through mid-October.

Union Pacific Railroad crews will be replacing rails between West Chicago and Elburn. Repairs are slated for the inbound track and delays could last from 10 to 15 minutes. To learn more, go to

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