This week, communities around O’Hare International Airport will decide whether to OK a controversial Fly Quiet plan that spreads around the pain of nighttime jet noise by alternating which runways are used for arrivals and departures from week to week.
But even if approved, the plan would be a while in coming and would not last forever. The plan could take as much as a year, and would last only about two years, before the opening of a major new east-west runway in late 2020.
Bensenville Village Manager Evan Summers said his western suburb would still hear a lot of noisy nighttime jet traffic under the plan, which does not go as far as he would like. But he said the plan will be better than the current situation, which puts the roar of jets over an area of Bensenville 24 hours a day.
“This allows everyone to share some of the noise,” Summers said. The plan would put about 74 percent of the traffic on parallel or east-west runways, and 26 percent on diagonals, which would direct more traffic to the northeast and southwest, according to the O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission, made up of more than 50 municipalities and school districts around the airport. The plan takes into account construction on the diagonal runways, which will reduce their use.
The idea is to both parcel out the roar of jets and make it more predictable. For example, in Week 1 under the plan, arrivals would come in from the west and departures leave toward the east, while on the second week, arrivals and departures would go northeast. The plan has an eight-week rotation, with six different configurations of traffic flow.
Versions of rotation plans were tested in 2016 and again this year — the most recent test was from late July through early October and is essentially the same as what is now under consideration. If you live east or west of the airport and wondered why nights got noisier as they got colder, the reason is that the test stopped.
The O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission will vote on the plan Friday. If approved, the city’s Aviation Department will develop a schedule for the runway rotation and submit it to the Federal Aviation Administration for approval.
Then comes a long wait — the FAA’s environmental review process could take a year. If that’s approved, the interim plan will be in place until east-west Runway 9C-27C opens in November 2020, at which point O’Hare neighbors have to come up with other ideas.
The O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission’s Ad Hoc Fly Quiet Committee voted last month to recommend the plan to the full membership. It probably has the votes to pass, but that depends on who shows up to the meeting, said Summers.
“It’s going to be close,” Summers said. “The challenge for me is getting the votes there.”
“We know the status quo is hurtful to our community,” said Chicago Ald. John Arena, 45th. “It means every single night residents in our ward (are) going to hear planes going overhead.”
Not everyone is happy about the plan. Des Plaines would hear more jet traffic at night because of greater use of diagonal runways, which could be used more than 26 percent of the time under the rotation plan, said Des Plaines Ald. Malcolm Chester.
“It takes the planes off of them and puts them on us,” said Chester, referring to the plan’s intent to reduce night jet traffic east and west of O’Hare — Des Plaines is north. He noted that pilots often do not want to use the diagonals, which are the oldest and shortest at the airport.
Chester concedes that the votes are there to pass the proposal, because there are more commission members affected by east-west traffic than by diagonal runways. He said he hopes those who oppose the plan get a chance to be heard.
Elmhurst also objects to the plan, which “does not represent a fair balance,” said city manager Jim Grabowski in a statement.
“There are three other parallel runways that can be better utilized to balance runway rotation,” he said.
Residents of communities around the airport have complained for decades about jets roaring over their heads, disrupting sleep and rattling pictures on walls. Complaints have increased in recent years after the city began shifting traffic from the diagonal runways to new parallel east-west runways, which concentrate more traffic over the city's North Side and the western suburbs. The city got about 5 million noise complaints last year and is on track to have 5 million this year.
Airports favor parallel runways, rather than runways that crisscross, because they enhance safety, efficiency and on-time performance, according to FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro. O’Hare has been eliminating diagonal runways that cross other runways, favoring more parallel, east-west runways instead.
Runway 15-33, formerly known as 14R-32L, which runs northwest and southeast, will be decommissioned in the spring of next year to accommodate construction of the western portion of Runway 9C-27C, so it will not be used for the Fly Quiet plan. Another diagonal runway closed in 2015.
Fair Allocation in Runways, or FAiR, a group that represents city and suburban residents, said in a statement that to provide true periodic noise relief for communities east and west of the airport, diagonal runway 15-33 must be spared.
“Without diagonal runway 15-33, the overnight rotation plan is unsustainable,” said FAiR member Al Rapp, who nevertheless thinks the plan will pass. “Without it, it’s junk.”
The FAiR statement said the runway is the only diagonal that can handle heavy jet traffic, and that the main reason it is going away is because of the Illinois Tollway’s plans to build western access into O’Hare.
“I think the city is sitting back and enjoying the suburbs going after each other,” Rapp said.
Chicago Department of Aviation spokeswoman Lauren Huffman said the interim Fly Quiet plan is “a critical part of the CDA’s mission to be a good neighbor and reduce noise exposure for the communities most heavily impacted as O’Hare’s airfield modernization continues.”
Mount Prospect Mayor and ONCC Chair Arlene Juracek said the plan represents “an equitable balance of impacts to communities surrounding O’Hare.”
CTA public hearing
The proposed 2018 CTA budget contains the first fare hike since 2009 — a quarter a ride. If you want to comment, there will be a public hearing Dec.12, at 6 p.m. at CTA headquarters, 567 W. Lake St., on the second floor.
You can also send your thoughts to assistant board secretary Gregory Longhini by mail at CTA, P.O. Box 7567, Chicago, IL 60680-7567; by email at [email protected]; or via fax at 312-681-5035. For more information, visit www.transitchicago.com.
The board will vote on the budget Dec. 13, so get your opinions in by noon that day.
Transportation song quiz
Last week’s song mentions several forms of transportation, but is about not going anywhere. The song is “Never Did No Wanderin’ ” by The Folksmen — a parody folk trio played by the same people who are in the parody heavy metal group Spinal Tap. No one got it, a first in the history of this quiz.
This week’s song was a chart topper about meeting at a train station, before a long, maybe permanent, separation. The group that performed it was uncharitably labeled the “Pre-Fab Four.” What’s the song and the group? The first with the right answer gets a Tribune notebook, baseball cards and glory.