New O'Hare runway rotation proposal splits suburbs over noise
A noise commission's contentious approval of a three-month overnight runway rotation test at O'Hare International Airport Friday reflected clear divides among suburbs eager for noise relief and those fearful of sleepless nights.
If federal regulators agree with the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission, the rotation trial intended to evenly distribute the din from jets at night could start in May.
Arlington Heights, Des Plaines, Hoffman Estates, Palatine, Rolling Meadows and Schaumburg opposed the test some said would bring more noise.
Among 36 supporters were Addison, Bensenville, Bloomingdale, Hanover Park, Itasca, Mount Prospect, Rosemont, South Barrington and Wood Dale.
The rotation will include diagonal Runway 15/33, possibly for the last time since it will be retired in spring 2018 to make way for a new runway coming in late 2020.
"Runways 10-Center and 10-Right are pointed right at Itasca," Mayor Jeff Pruyn said, explaining why he supported a plan that uses myriad runways including 15/33, which runs from northwest to southeast.
Chicago conducted a six-month rotation ending in December that Pruyn said gave residents some quiet nights.
However, because 15/33 would shoot departing airplanes over Arlington Heights, Schaumburg and Rolling Meadows, those towns were in the "no" camp.
Likewise, Des Plaines objected because the rotation proposal uses Runway 4-Left/22-Right that channels jets over neighborhoods unaccustomed to the racket.
"It would immediately affect houses," Des Plaines Alderman Malcolm Chester said of the rotation trial.
Chicago Department of Aviation planners want to avoid sending flights over the same communities consecutively, to alternate east and west flow, and to correct overuse of certain runways that occurred in the first rotation.
Mayors and officials struggled with the need to put as many runways in the mix as possible to spread out noise and the reality that 15/33 is going -- meaning it's prudent to experiment with rotations that don't use it.
For that reason, the commission expects to try two separate three-month rotations -- one with 15/33 and one without. One scenario was to start the three-month rotation in May and another one in August.
"Arlington Heights voted no to protect our residents. We're disappointed the test will be used to place more aircraft over Arlington Heights," ONCC representative Dennis Tajer said.
But Bensenville Village Manager Evan Summers said "today was diplomacy in action. Nobody walked away saying, 'this is the best thing in the world,' but everyone had something positive to take home."
Noise complaints erupted in the suburbs and city after Chicago shifted to an east/west flight flow in late 2013 using parallel runways that are gradually being built.
Data released Friday showed noise complaints reached a record nearly 5 million in 2016 compared to 4 million in 2015.
The meeting ended with a bang when Chairman and Mount Prospect Mayor Arlene Juracek called for an adjournment after she and noise activist Al Rapp clashed.
Rapp, a member of the Fair Allocation in Runways group, continued speaking despite Juracek's requests he stop during an abbreviated public comment period.
FAIR wants to keep 15/33 although the O'Hare modernization plan eliminates it, citing safety reasons. The runway also is in the way of the new runway and a ring road the Illinois tollway is building on the western edge of O'Hare.
"We now know 15/33 is not fatally flawed and unsafe," Rapp said. For proposed rotation schedules and information, go to ohare.noise.org.