O'Hare runway rotation will go away at Christmas

  • A runway rotation that gave residents some relief from jet noise at night ends in December.

    A runway rotation that gave residents some relief from jet noise at night ends in December. Daily Herald File Photo

 
 
Updated 11/30/2016 6:46 PM

An overnight runway rotation experiment that's given thousands of residents near O'Hare International Airport some peace from jet noise will end Dec. 25, and an extension is unlikely, at least in the short-term.

The city needs to analyze data when the six-month test expires and federal rules prevent an automatic renewal, Chicago Department of Aviation planners said Wednesday at an O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission committee meeting.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The news proved a shock to leaders whose residents have benefitted from the trial. Several mayors hope a more permanent rotation plan can be instituted next year.

Meanwhile, communities that received an unexpected earful at night are relieved.

The test rotates runway use every week in an effort to distribute the airplane din equally across the region. It was permitted for a six-month trial, and continuing it could require environmental reviews that could take months.

The rotation "did provide benefits for a majority of communities and it was working well," Bensenville Mayor Frank Soto said. "We're worried about going back to the status quo." However, the noise compatibility group can shift to crafting a more permanent rotation plan using the lessons learned from the test, Soto said.

Schiller Park Mayor Barbara Piltaver called the situation disappointing.

"I do not want to see this end," she said, adding residents tell her that "'it's so nice to have a week of sleep.'"

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But looking at data from 12 weeks of rotation, Des Plaines Alderman Malcolm Chester pointed out his ward was suffering from a sudden influx of jets at night. It "seems to be achieving a (noise) balance on our backs. That's just very upsetting," Chester said.

If the group pursues another rotation, the process will be complex given upcoming airfield changes. A northwest diagonal runway will be decommissioned in 2018 as the city starts building its last east/west, parallel runway set to open in 2020.

Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson believes if the schedule were tweaked, a rotation could return in summer 2017. So far, Elk Grove Village has received a disproportionate share of night noise, he said.

"From Day One ... what we've wanted to do is to fairly distribute noise around the airport," Johnson said.

One silver lining is that the city can rotate runways in the wee hours even when the test expires, former air traffic controller and JDA Aviation Solutions consultant Craig Burzych said. The existing "Fly Quiet" rules allow use of a number of runways overnight, but historically just three handled the brunt of landings and departures.

Schaumburg has seen an uptick in noise complaints during the rotation but supported the test initially because it was for a limited time. Now, "it's important we conclude the trial and review the data," Transportation Director Karyn Robles said.

On average, the rotation started at 11:13 p.m. and stopped at 5:34 a.m., preliminary results showed. Construction and weather affected the schedule, the Chicago Department of Aviation said. The aviation department is expected to crunch final data from the test and a survey in January and report back to the commission's Ad Hoc Fly Quiet Committee in February.

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