O'Hare 'Fly Quiet' plan advances — now it's up to federal officials to approve

Representatives of communities around O'Hare International Airport on Friday approved the “Fly Quiet” plan intended to spread nighttime jet noise across the area.

The 51-8 vote by members of the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission sends the plan first to the Chicago Department of Aviation, which will make a formal request to the Federal Aviation Administration for final approval. If the FAA approves the plan, it could take up to a year to take effect.

The plan calls for alternating which runways are used for arrivals and departures from week to week. The proposal calls for greater use of diagonal runways that run northeast and southwest, diverting some jet traffic away from areas east and west of the airport. Still, under the new plan, about 74 percent of the traffic would be directed east and west of the airport, according to the city.

Before the vote, Chicago Ald. John Arena, 45th, urged commission members to put aside "tribal" interests and do what's best for the area.

"There is no perfect solution to this," he told those gathered for the meeting in Des Plaines. He said his constituents would still be getting much more nighttime noise than communities that were objecting to the plan.

Those voting "no" at Friday’s meeting were communities that would now be affected by the new plan, including Park Ridge, as well as Des Plaines to the north of the airport and Elmhurst to the south. 

Also voting no were representatives of Park Ridge’s two school districts — Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 and Maine Township High School District 207 — as well as Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205 and the communities of Downers Grove and South Barrington. Members of the Park Ridge’s O’Hare Airport Commission have opposed the Fly Quiet plan, saying it has only brought more complaints of noise among the city’s residents.

All Chicago wards on the commission and Cook County voted in favor of it.

The city of Elmhurst said that the plan, also known as "Option A," does not represent a "fair balance" of nighttime flights, and wanted the airport to use three other parallel, east-west runways to balance runway rotations.

"We are extremely disappointed with the ONCC's decision and the process that got them to this vote," said Elmhurst Mayor Steve Morley in a statement. "Our hope is that the FAA understands that Option A will impact more individuals than any other flight pattern and refuses this plan."

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 was approved Friday.

Arena's ward and other Chicago communities, as well as suburbs to the west of the airport like Bensenville, would see some relief under the plan. Jet noise has drawn more complaints from residents east and west of the airport — including Arena’s ward — since the most recent Fly Quiet test ended.

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 configurations of traffic flow.

If the FAA approves the plan, it 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.

Commission members that will be affected by the extra traffic on the diagonal runways tried to delay the vote by deferring it until next month, or by moving public comment before the vote, instead of after. Representatives of Des Plaines and Elmhurst have complained that concerns about the plan have not gotten adequate hearing.

Mount Prospect Mayor Arlene Juracek, chair of the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission, disagreed. “If anybody believes the public’s views have not been heard, that is simply wrong,” Juracek said before the vote.

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 and Northwest sides and the western suburbs.

Juracek said she was “heartened” by the vote. “It’s the best solution we have right now,” Juracek told the Tribune after the meeting.

Jennifer Johnson contributed.

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