Why safety concerns could mean more jet noise at night for some residents near O'Hare

  • A United plane over apartments near Allstate Arena in Rosemont.

    A United plane over apartments near Allstate Arena in Rosemont. Daily Herald file photo

Updated 4/24/2019 8:35 AM

Safety concerns about using north runways at O'Hare International Airport for an overnight rotation may hamper efforts to evenly distribute jet noise in the wee hours.

One side effect of constructing a new runway and extending an existing one at O'Hare's north airfield was anticipated to be relief at night for residents in towns such as Wood Dale and Bensenville, under a rotation plan being crafted by the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission.


But potential safety risks on the north airfield posed by jets' crossing runways to reach maintenance or cargo buildings at night were flagged by the Federal Aviation Administration, officials said at the group's Fly Quiet Committee meeting Tuesday.

"We're definitely concerned about the limitation being imposed regarding use of the northern airfield," Bensenville Village Manager Evan Summers said.

The FAA and Chicago Department of Aviation are in talks over 30 departing and arriving configurations for the rotation. So far, the FAA has deemed four acceptable and 15 acceptable with stipulations but has not signed off on 11 options involving arrivals on the north airfield.

"I guess an overall fear here is an erosion of options," said Dan Dwyer of the Fair Allocation of Runways group.

Summers noted that "residents living around O'Hare also hold an important stake in the operations at the airport -- especially during the nighttime hours." Flights from runways on the southern airfield affect Wood Dale, Bensenville and other nearby communities.

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Discussions with the FAA are ongoing, city aviation department planners said.

"We're trying to set configurations with the FAA so that when we bring them to you, that they are feasible," CDA Deputy Commissioner of Environment Aaron Frame said.

"It's not our goal to have you vote on something and then go to the FAA and they say, 'I don't know why you took a vote on that -- it's not going to work,'"

The rotation plan is evolving amid a fluid situation on O'Hare's north airfield with a sixth east/west runway opening in fall 2020, a runway extension set to be built in 2021, and new airplane maintenance facilities. The proposal would rotate runways weekly.

Another recommendation is that in some configurations, pilots not use the full runway length for takeoffs to allow other aircraft to taxi on unused sections.


Previous rotation tests, however, showed some pilots preferred full-length runways, particularly for heavy aircraft.

"The potential loss of full-length runway departures is a huge concern," Dwyer said.

The committee will reconvene May 28.

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