O'Hare anti-noise runway plan OK'd, helping some but not all towns
Noise-weary residents in the flight path of O'Hare International Airport could start participating in an experimental overnight runway rotation as soon as June.
The O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission Friday handed Chicago a 45-5 vote in favor of testing out 10 different runway configurations weekly between 11 p.m. and about 5:30 a.m. over a 12-week period with the goal of evenly distributing jet noise across the city and suburbs.
"Today we made great strides in changing the status quo," commission Chairwoman and Mount Prospect Mayor Arlene Juracek said. "We believe this is a fair and equitable way of balancing the noise impact and bringing predictability to folks so they understand when quiet periods can be expected and reduce their exposure to noisy periods."
A jet cacophony landed on neighborhoods after O'Hare's transition to an east/west parallel runway system in fall 2013 and brought political pressure on Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, which is one reason for the overnight rotation idea.
The Suburban O'Hare Commission, which represents towns including Bensenville and Elk Grove Village, hired independent consultants to analyze the rotation plan. They concluded it would significantly reduce noise overnight and bring some relief to 67,887 residents.
But Arlington Heights, Des Plaines, Hoffman Estates, Palatine and Rolling Meadows representatives on the commission thought otherwise. After decades of O'Hare noise, the towns saw some relief after the 2013 changes.
"It's a bit too much to handle," Des Plaines Ward 6 Alderman Malcolm Chester said. "There are planes literally going hundreds of feet over our heads. The landing lights light up our houses and shake the dishes."
The Federal Aviation Administration will review the rotation in the coming weeks and needs to give its approval. Assuming that occurs and the experiment is successful, the proposed rotation won't be around forever. Noise patterns will shift in a few years when Chicago builds a sixth parallel runway on the north airfield and closes a controversial diagonal one (14-Right/32-Left).
For now, the move "is significant relief for the most impacted residents, particularly on the south airfield. They shoulder most of the burden," Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans said.
The rotation would use six diagonal and six parallel runway configurations and a 50/50 split of east and west arrivals and departures. Once activated, a schedule will be posted on the Chicago Department of Aviation website and a link provided so residents can give their opinions.
"Doing a six-month trial will allow us to collect actual data and feedback from residents that will give us the information we need to make a determination whether a rotation plan was a benefit to our community, whether the noise stayed the same, or whether we felt the impacts and should not support it permanently," Schaumburg Transportation Director Karen Robles said.
The concept would scale back the use of O'Hare's longest runway, 10-Left/28-Right, which directs jets over Wood Dale, Bensenville and Itasca. It also includes 14-Right/32-Left, a diagonal runway scheduled to be retired in 2019.
"It'll mean more noise, which we've endured for decades, and had been promised relief," Palatine Councilman Tim Millar said.
But, "it can't be any worse than what we have now," Itasca Mayor Jeff Pruyn said. "It's worth a shot. Let's see where it goes."
Meanwhile, the Fair Allocation in Runways group, or FAIR, gave a partial endorsement to the plan, saying it was a good start. But members contended the city still needs to spare the 14/32 diagonal runways in order to evenly distribute noise and noted that the rotation is not mandatory for pilots or airlines.
This was the second go-round for the proposal, which failed to gain a two-thirds majority at a March meeting.