How to rotate overnight flights still up in the air

  • Plane noise overnight is making life unbearable in some suburban neighborhoods, residents said Monday.

      Plane noise overnight is making life unbearable in some suburban neighborhoods, residents said Monday. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer, October 2015

Updated 11/16/2015 5:51 PM

An advisory group tasked with figuring out a way to rotate overnight O'Hare flights came away without a decision Monday on a weekly or monthly system.

Much is at stake for residents besieged by jet noise, and members of the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission's nine-member Fly Quiet Committee got an earful from suburbanites and Chicagoans at a meeting on Monday.


Noise from O'Hare International Airport "dictates my schedule -- when I get up in the morning and when I go to sleep at night," said Linda Waltz of Wood Dale.

Other residents said the voluntary Fly Quiet program between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. has failed.

"I get noise 24 hours a day," said Susan Cain of Elk Grove Village.

Chicago's switch to an east-west flight arrival and departure system using parallel runways in fall 2013 has sent noise complaints skyrocketing.

Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans this summer proposed revising the existing Fly Quiet program by rotating runways for certain periods of time. Fly Quiet's intent is to put jets on select runways that typically fly over nonresidential areas from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. but airport planners pointed out in October a surge in red-eye traffic around 6 a.m. requires multiple runways to accommodate the demand.

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The advisory group has been asked to come up with recommendations expeditiously, but it's likely meetings will stretch into 2016, Committee Chairman Joseph Annunzio said.

"We're going to keep going until we reach consensus. The worst thing to do would be to throw up our hands," he said.

Although O'Hare has eight runways, only six can be used overnight. Two parallel runways on the far north and south sides of the airfield are closed from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., planners explained. That leaves three parallels and three diagonal runways to handle overnight flights.

Members of the Fair Allocation in Runways organization lobbied the city to keep all its diagonal runways open, arguing this gives residents the best odds for getting a relatively quiet night. Chicago closed a once heavily used diagonal this summer and intends to retire a second by 2020 to 2021.

"I hope the committee can recognize this is a choice between accepting the plan the city has and choosing to make Fly Quiet something that is best suited for the residents," FAIR leader Colleen Mulcrone said.

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