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87,000 residents could be affected by 5 new O’Hare night flight paths

Five new night departure flight paths — affecting nearly 87,000 residents within five miles of O’Hare Airport — were given the green light Monday by a committee charged with updating O’Hare’s “Fly Quiet” night procedures.

Portions of the city’s 41st and 38th Wards as well as sections of Park Ridge, River Grove, Elmwood Park, Schiller Park, Bensenville, Wood Dale, Itasca and Elk Grove Village would see jets overhead at night under the proposed paths, which are subject to further review.

City experts defended the new routes as ones that would take jet traffic over less populated areas of impacted suburbs and wards. The five paths could be added to nine existing night departure routes and used on a rotational basis, possibly weekly.

However, leaders of the Fair Allocation in Runways coalition expressed frustration Monday that their proposal to use a diagonal runway due to be ripped up but aimed at less populated areas was never addressed.

“The impression is that the city is spoon-feeding the committee,’’ said FAIR leader Colleen Mulcrone afterwards. After 2 ½ years and 23 requests, FAIR is due to discuss its concerns with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel this Wednesday.

The Ad Hoc Fly Quiet Committee of the O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission agreed Monday to send the five new night departure routes to the full Noise Commission, which is expected to seek a Federal Aviation Administration analysis on the feasibility of the new paths.

Five new night flight paths for departing O’Hare jets as proposed by the city. Source: Chicago Aviation Department
Five new night flight paths for departing O’Hare jets as proposed by the city. Source: Chicago Aviation Department

In addition, the committee asked city experts to determine the population impact of two additional routes that would send departures from runways 10L and 10C off in angles to the northeast.

Chicago Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans recommended such a committee evaluate new city proposals on how to reduce night jet noise following record complaints about new flight paths that hit areas east and west of O’Hare starting in October 2013.

The committee Monday only examined “one very narrow slice” of airport traffic, Chicago Ald. John Arena (45th) noted. No population information on night arrivals, which more heavily impact Chicagoans, has yet to be presented to it.

But, Arena said, Monday’s vote represented some “very measured progress” in that it added some new flight tracks over less populated areas into the mix of alternatives.

City data indicated that one new flight path advanced Monday would impact nearly 25,000 residents alone – more than all but two of nine existing flight paths. That new route would take flights departing Runway 10L and curve them southeast, over portions of Schiller Park, the city’s 38th Ward, River Grove and Elmwood Park.

Elmwood Park trustee Alan Kaminski Monday stepped forward from the audience to object, saying “I would like to go on the record as opposing any plan that drives flights over Elmwood Park.”

Committee members Monday dodged a requested vote on the city’s proposal to allow officials to divide the current voluntary “Fly Quiet” hours of 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. into three segments.

City consultants contend that during most of those hours, O’Hare could get by using one arrival runway and one departure runway. They are recommending that those pairs of runways be alternated, possibly every week, so the same neighborhoods are not hit night after night with noise. The Suburban O’Hare Commission has warned that any rotation plan may have “unintended consequences” and has asked for time to do its own analysis before any final decisions are made.

City experts insist O’Hare’s current demand indicates O’Hare needs at least three runways toward the beginning and end of the current “Fly Quiet” window. They want the flexibility to decide, apparently each night, when the window allowing three or more runways should be used. The city Monday presented one day of data from August, among O’Hare’s busiest months, to defend this idea.

One 41st ward resident, Frank Gagliardi, was wary of allowing such flexibility.

“Five years from now, there will be no `Fly Quiet,’ ” Gagliardi told the committee.

Also Monday, Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) said he has asked Emanuel five times since Dec. 21 to replace Cathy Dunlap as his ward’s representative on the Noise Commission, with no response. As the elected official of the heavily-impacted 41st ward, Napolitano said he is eager to advocate for his constituents on issues that impact so many of them.

He also asked that no final decisions be made until the City Council had time to review his proposed ordinance that would require the City Council to approve all future O’Hare projects.

Nine existing night flight paths for departing O’Hare jets. Source: Chicago Aviation Department
Nine existing night flight paths for departing O’Hare jets. Source: Chicago Aviation Department