Controversial runway is gone at O'Hare

14L/32R used at Orchard Field, fatal Flight 191 departed from it

 
 
Updated 8/21/2015 8:41 AM
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  • A jet takes off from Runway 14-Left/32-Right, which closed Wednesday.

    A jet takes off from Runway 14-Left/32-Right, which closed Wednesday. Bob Chwedyk/bchwedyk@dailyherald, May 2008

  • O'Hare Runway 14-Left/32-Right, used since O'Hare opened, was where American Airlines Flight 191 took off before its 1979 crash.

      O'Hare Runway 14-Left/32-Right, used since O'Hare opened, was where American Airlines Flight 191 took off before its 1979 crash. JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Daily Herald File PhotoO'Hare Runway 14-Left/32-Right, used since O'Hare opened, was where American Airlines Flight 191 took off before its 1979 crash near Elk Grove Village.

    Daily Herald File PhotoO'Hare Runway 14-Left/32-Right, used since O'Hare opened, was where American Airlines Flight 191 took off before its 1979 crash near Elk Grove Village.

  • Closed runway

    Graphic: Closed runway (click image to open)

One of O'Hare International Airport's original runways at the center of a fight over jet noise quietly closed Wednesday night.

The Chicago Department of Aviation had announced its intentions of closing Runway 14-Left/32-Right but some state lawmakers and resident groups opposed the move.

As of Thursday morning, the runway was stripped of its identification numbers.

The city is in the midst of building a parallel system of six runways using east/west flight patterns but that shift is causing consternation in neighborhoods buffeted by jet din.

Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans has said that 14L/32R and another diagonal runway 14-Right/32-Left are unsafe, calling them "fatally flawed" because they intersect others and reduce efficiency at O'Hare. The 14R/32L runway should be decommissioned in 2020.

This spring, state legislators passed a law raising the number of runways allowed to operate at O'Hare from eight to 10, as a sign of support for the diagonals.

"I'm naturally disappointed," said State Rep. Marty Moylan, a Des Plaines Democrat. "I think it's taking a page out of the former mayor's book in closing it at nighttime."

Mayor Richard M. Daley had crews bulldoze the runway at the former Meigs Field overnight in 2003.

The Fair Allocation in Runways group lobbied to save the diagonals to distribute jet noise over a wider area, an effort that gained it three sit-down meetings with Evans. The city committed to closing the 14/32 runways at those sessions and offered a plan to rotate use of the parallel runways at night to distribute noise more equitably but FAIR officials were dubious.

Meanwhile, officials with the Suburban O'Hare Commission, another airport watchdog that includes Bensenville and Elk Grove Village, have said they think noise relief will come with the full build-out of the six parallel runways.

Despite the absent runway "we're not looking at this as the end of the story," FAIR member Colleen Mulcrone said.

"FAIR continues to maintain real relief for all communities is not going to happen even at full build out unless all four diagonal runways original to O'Hare ... remain as options to fairly distribute air traffic around the region."

Moylan called the rotation idea "progress. We'll continue to work and try and get some relief for residents," he said.

Although supported by many, the diagonal runways raised a ruckus in suburban neighborhoods to the northwest for years until the city switched to the east/west pattern in 2013.

Richard and Cheryl Delporte told the Daily Herald in July that "we have lived in Rolling Meadows for 49 years and up until a few years ago we experienced constant airplanes flying over our home. We joked that there must be an arrow painted on our roof pointing to O'Hare."

Chicago has been phasing out the diagonals; five flights used 14L/32R in May compared to 115 in May 2013, city data shows.

There are four diagonal runways in total at the airfield. and Evans has indicated it's likely the city will eventually close a third (4-Left/22-Right).

The 14L/32R runway was one of O'Hare's originals when it was known as Orchard Field.

It played a role in one of the nation's worst air tragedies when an American Airlines DC-10 took off from 32-Right on May 25, 1979, rolled to the left, then crashed into a field near Des Plaines, killing 271 aboard. The left engine fell onto the runway during the takeoff climb.

For commercial pilot Dennis Tajer of Arlington Heights, 14-Left's exit recalled foggy days in the 1990s and early 2000s. The 14/32s were the go-to runways because they had high-tech approach equipment to guide pilots, said Tajer, a spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association representing American Airlines pilots. That equipment is now standard on all O'Hare runways.

"The thing that made them unique were the low-visibility approaches," he said. "My fond memories of landing on 14-Left were the challenges

of likely low (cloud) ceiling and visibility."

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