As new air traffic patterns took hold in August, the number of people complaining about O’Hare Airport jet noise more than doubled from a year ago, but the number of those people who also won’t say where they live jumped even more — by 40-fold.
The mystery complainants are mucking up O’Hare’s ability to accurately track and plot the location of jet noise beefs, some members of the O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission said Friday.
“It’s inhibiting our ability to collect good data,” said Bensenville Mayor Frank Soto, a commission member who has urged that the city’s online complaint form be re-examined.
“They are causing a detriment to the community because they are not allowing us to capture” what’s happening.
Also Friday, Chicago Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans said O’Hare in August finally got close to achieving the 50-50 split between “east-flow” and “west-flow” traffic that officials had predicted when the latest runway opened last October.
Before that runway debuted as part of an ongoing switch to mostly east-west parallel runways, O’Hare’s heavy reliance on “west flow” left Chicago shouldering 70 percent of daytime arrivals while Bensenville absorbed a similar percent of departures. In August, Chicago saw only 55 percent of daytime arrivals.
“This is a significant benefit,” Evans told the commission.
August also marked O’Hare’s second month of a new night runway rotation program. The 25-week night-time experiment, combined with the heavier day-time use of east flow, is bringing relief to some Chicagoans as well as extra jet noise to suburban areas. As a result, jet noise complaints are up in areas with new noise, officials said.
In August, new beefs poured in from Elgin and Harvard; complaints rose sharply in Schaumburg, Elk Grove Village and Bloomingdale.
All told, the number of people beefing about O’Hare jet noise in August hit more than 94,000, data showed Friday. That’s more than double last August’s numbers.
Meanwhile, the number of complainants from “unknown” communities jumped 40-fold, rising from 294 last August to 12,629 this August.
Other beefers may list their towns or zip codes, but not their addresses and names. In such cases, officials call them “anonymous.”
Chicagoans in particular apparently like their anonymity. Of Chicago’s more than 20,000 August beefers, nearly 19,000 did not give their names or exact addresses.
Schaumburg residents may be even more secretive. Of 11,410 complainants there, 11,383 clung to their anonymity. Nearly half of Elk Grove Village’s more than 58,000 complainers did not list their names or exact addresses.
Because little personal information was listed on nearly 4,000 River Forest August beefs, officials said they counted them as coming from separate River Forest residents. “We don’t want to guess” as to how many people actually made those complaints, one consultant explained.
The city’s online jet noise complaint form requests a name, exact address, zip code, city, phone number and email, but none of those fields is required. In early 2015, the Fair Allocation in Runways citizen coalition posted a more user-friendly version of the form at chicagonoisecomplaint.com. Complaints are automatically forwarded to official talliers, which is one reason complaints have increased.
Chicago Department of Aviation consultants use the form’s information to run a monthly list of complaints and complainants, broken down by Chicago ward and by suburb, and to plot those beefs on a map.
“As long as the complaint includes `O’Hare’
and `Illinois,’ the CDA will include the complaint in the monthly report,” said department spokesman Owen Kilmer by email. Sometimes officials are able to rack up a beef to a particular Chicago ward even if the complainant only lists a zip code, Kilmer said.
Some Noise Commission members have wondered if more residents might share their addresses if they were allowed to provide only their block and town. However, to count such beefs separately, officials would also need names attached to them.
Repeat beefers who share their addresses risk an anonymous call-out from the Chicago Department of Aviation. For example, the August O’Hare jet noise report notes that “7,064 of 7,449 complaints in Niles came from one address.”
Chicagoan Suzanne Carbon, a 39th Ward resident, suggested that instead of pointing the finger at repeat complainers, the CDA should try to find out why they keep complaining.
“Why not contact those people?” Carbon asked. “They might have something interesting to say.”
Noise Commission member Catherine Dunlap, of Chicago’s 41st Ward, said she hopes the commission subcommittee she chairs will take up the issue of complaint addresses next year.
“We don’t want to squelch people from complaining,” Dunlap said. Meanwhile, she said, “some people will complain no matter what.”