O'Hare noise complaints reach 2.1 million

  • Could rotating runway use mean better sleep for residents living near O'Hare International Airport?

      Could rotating runway use mean better sleep for residents living near O'Hare International Airport? Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Updated 9/4/2015 1:33 PM

Nine members of a panel that will decide on rotating runways for night flights at O'Hare with the intent of reducing noise will be named next week.

"We're moving pretty quickly," O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission Chairwoman Arlene Juracek said Friday. "Any delays could be perceived as foot-dragging."


The Chicago Aviation Department handed the ONCC the challenge of reaching a consensus and plan for using a runway rotation system at night. Currently under the Fly Quiet program, designated runways are used between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

But after Chicago switched to a parallel runway system using an east/west flow in fall 2013, complaints have soared and officials decided to try a new tack.

Using one runway for arrivals and another for departures overnight, and switching those every week or so, will impact a greater number of people but with less frequency, Chicago Department of Aviation officials said.

Juracek said she wanted a geographic balance of Chicago and suburban representatives. The anti-noise group Fair Allocation in Runways is also invited to sit on the committee as a nonvoting member.

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Complaints about noise totaled 382,999 in July -- a significant number but down from 436,119 in June and 407,523 in May. The yearly tally through July is 2.15 million, the CDA reported at Friday's ONCC meeting.

Most July complaints came from Chicago with 135,535, followed by Bensenville with 96,023 and Wood Dale with 42,014.

But "some came from very far away including St. Charles and Batavia," city aviation consultant Jeffrey Jackson said.

Some ONCC members asked Chicago to consider runway rotation during the day.

For people in Bensenville, noise "seems to be getting worse," Bensenville Assistant Village Manager Dan Di Santo said.

Juracek, Mount Prospect's mayor, said she's gotten recent calls from residents inquiring about unexpected noise from Runway 14-Right/32-Left. "We're very sympathetic; we all hear it and experience it," she said.


A series of meetings with Chicago and FAIR over the summer resulted in the rotation idea and other concessions, including modernizing soundproofing in homes nearest to the airport.

Homeowners suffering from 70 decibel noise levels were soundproofed first, but that also means the materials are outdated now, CDA Commissioner Ginger Evans said.

"Better windows are available; better seals are available," she said.

Officials also informed residents that Runway 9-Right/27-Left on the north airfield will be closed at nights this fall for construction, which means runways including diagonal 14R/32L will pick up the slack.

Chicago is in the midst of building six parallel runways to handle most flights instead of four existing diagonal ones. A fifth will open mid-October.

Currently the bulk of O'Hare flights -- 70 percent -- follow a "west flow" pattern, with flights landing from the east and departing to the west.

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