Limits of Fly Quiet nighttime program discussed as O'Hare noise complaints soar

  • The O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission discussed why a program to reduce plane noise in the nighttime hours isn't always being followed.

    The O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission discussed why a program to reduce plane noise in the nighttime hours isn't always being followed.

 
 
Updated 5/1/2015 5:17 PM

With irritation over O'Hare noise peaking, local leaders looked for relief through the nighttime Fly Quiet program -- but the voluntary effort has limitations, aviation officials said Friday.

The issue was key to an O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission meeting where Chicago announced complaints about the racket from planes reached 352,846 in March, compared to 122,803 in February.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

High on the list were Chicago with 147,429, Bensenville with 102,310, Wood Dale with 35,537, Elk Grove Village with 10,318 and Itasca with 8,575.

Meanwhile, airport watchdog group Fair Allocation in Runways, or FAIR, reported more than 1 million noise complaints since Feb. 1.

Fly Quiet operates from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. The voluntary program designates runways and routes over areas that are less populated. Departing flights are asked to reach an altitude of 3,000 feet before turning.

ONCC Chairman and Mount Prospect Mayor Arlene Juracek asked why flights deviate from Fly Quiet runways and if those are monitored.

Noncompliance reports involving air traffic control are generated every two weeks and regulators go over problems with staff members, FAA District Manager Paul Litke said.

Weather and wind velocity can affect why controllers or pilots might assign or request runways outside of Fly Quiet, experts said.

Juracek asked if aircraft could make turns using higher altitudes.

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"There's a limited shelf to go higher," Litke said, adding there's potential to conflict with arriving flights and planes passing through the airspace.

Sometimes larger aircraft will request longer runways in bad weather to avoid heavy braking, United Airlines Assistant Chief Pilot Jeff Bayless said.

Juracek wondered about fining airlines that don't comply with Fly Quiet.

"I'd be concerned about financial penalties," FAA Director of Planning and Programming Elliott Black said. "Safety has to be paramount." Pilots "are making complex decisions in a complex environment. ... Financial concerns can complicate that."

The city is shifting to an east-west flow at O'Hare that's cutting back on diagonal runway use. The change has sent jet noise into communities not just near O'Hare but as far away as West Chicago and St. Charles.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The city would consider requests to modify Fly Quiet as O'Hare modernization continues, officials said, but they didn't elaborate.

Administrators also said it would take FAA or congressional action to mandate Fly Quiet at O'Hare.

Outgoing Des Plaines Alderman Mark Walsten said he wanted Fly Quiet mandated at O'Hare.

Flights "are deviating to save fuel," Walsten said. "It revolves around money."

Officials also announced the newest runway on the southern end of O'Hare, expected to open mid-October, will operate starting at 6 a.m. each day.

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