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O'Hare noise complaints top 1 million on citizen-run website

Since Feb. 1, a citizen-run website has tallied more than a million noise complaints about planes landing at and taking off from O'Hare International Airport. | File Photo

Complaints on a citizen website about O’Hare International Airport jet noise since Feb. 1 topped the 1 million mark Friday, fueling a nearly nine-fold increase in official city tallies.

The new development emerged as Chicago Department of Aviation officials revealed they have not revisited their “Fly Quiet” program to minimize night noise in residential areas since their $8 billion plan to overhaul O’Hare runways was approved in 2005.

Part of the overhaul includes eventually closing one of only four Fly Quiet runways that take planes over less-populated areas at night.

Aviation Department Assistant Commissioner Aaron Frame told the O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission Friday the city could revisit its Fly Quiet program — but made no promises.

One Noise Commission member was shocked the city hasn’t reconsidered how to minimize night jet noise since the runway overhaul dramatically shifted flight paths in 2013.

“This last week has been horrendous,” Schiller Park Mayor Barbara Piltaver said. “Expanding Fly Quiet would be in your and our best interest right now… Please get on it as soon as possible.”

A pending Illinois bill seeks to spare one Fly Quiet runway scheduled for demolition as well as a second diagonal runway, both aimed at the suburbs.

Meanwhile, complaints to the citizen-created chicagonoisecomplaint.com since Feb. 1 surpassed 1,013,000 Friday, with 43,975 Chicago and suburban residents logging those beefs in that time. The website’s developer, Darrin Thomas, a member of the Fair Allocation in Runways citizen coalition, says only about 0.2 percent of those complaints have been about Midway Airport.

Schiller Park mayor Barbara Piltaver, right, would like to see the Fly Quiet program expanded. | Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times Media

The citizen website makes it easier for residents to report an hourlong onslaught of planes in one fell swoop. And it sends all complaints to the city’s official jet noise complaint website. As a result, city tallies released Friday for the month of March soared to 352,846.

Thomas said he believes even that is an undercount, noting that the city site missed tens of thousands of his complaints when it crashed several times.

But even the official March complaint figures are a nearly nine-fold increase from the city’s 39,500 total in January — the last month before chicagonoisecomplaint.com launched to the public. The number of complainers to the city jumped more than six-fold during that time.

The city’s March noise report noted that 37 percent of March complaints came from eight addresses. Some residents contend it’s the persistent barrage of jets that makes their noise particularly disruptive.

New Noise Commission chairwoman Arlene Juracek warned Friday that if residents are “using the complaint system to vent your frustration, in some ways you’re making it less reliable.” She said it’s harder to detect “abnormal” operations amid a flood of complaints.

The citizen website reflects “a high level of frustration,” Juracek said, and “we are aware of it.”

Thomas later accused Juracek, the mayor of Mount Prospect, of “trying to discourage” citizen input, which he called “very problematic.”

Mt. Prospect Mayor Arlene Juracek is the new chair of the O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission. | Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times Media

During a Fly Quiet discussion with experts Friday, Juracek questioned why more than a third of night arrivals — which affect Chicago — were coming in on non-Fly Quiet runways.

American Airlines pilot Jim Condes said a “common runway change” requested by pilots of larger jets destined for O’Hare’s International Terminal is to switch to a longer runway to avoid the extensive braking required on one particular shorter runway.

In addition, Frame said that although one Fly Quiet runway is among the longest at O’Hare, that means it takes longer to plow in the winter and would be out of service during that time. With O’Hare in the midst of adding another runway and air traffic control tower by fall, any construction nearby also can prevent its use, he said.

Aaron Frame, assistant commissioner of the Chicago Department of Aviation. | Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times Media

Noise Commission member Mark Walsten of Des Plaines said Friday’s special meeting on Fly Quiet should have included a depiction of all deviations from Fly Quiet routes.

Walsten contended some non-Fly Quiet traffic may be trying to save fuel and money.

“A lot of deviations revolve around money,’’ Walsten said. “I think that’s been missed here.”