The number of people complaining about night O’Hare Airport jet noise jumped more than 80 percent after the first month of a test program to spread out the impact of night flights, new data showed Friday.
While some northwest suburbs saw steep gains in night jet noise complainers, Chicago’s 41st Ward, which is closest to O’Hare, apparently saw some relief. It has been hammered by jets likened to a “highway in the sky” ever since O’Hare dramatically changed its flight paths in October 2013 as part of an ongoing airfield overhaul.
The number of 41st Ward residents filing official complaints about night jet noise dropped by nearly 52 percent between June and July, from 314 to 207, although the total number of Chicago night complainants went up during that period.
Chicago Aviation Department spokesman Owen Kilmer cautioned against placing too much weight on data from the first four weeks of the new “Fly Quiet” rotation plan. He also emphasized that the number of overall June complainants was lower than in some past months, making the July increase seem steeper.
Under the test “Fly Quiet” program launched July 6, night runways are being rotated each week, over a 12-week cycle, to better spread out night noise and lessen the impact on areas west and east of O’Hare, including Chicago, that had been seeing 70 percent of all air traffic, 24/7. Through Dec. 24, the plan alternates between a week of east-west parallel runways, which affect the city, and then a week of diagonal “crosswind” runways, which impact only suburbs.
“The initial feedback from community representatives indicates that noise distribution is being balanced throughout communities near O’Hare – and that the most heavily impacted communities are starting to experience some relief,” Kilmer said by email. “This was the goal of the rotation test, and we are encouraged by the positive response.”
For some areas to lose noise, others had to gain it. Complaint data released Friday to the O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission showed that trend, with night complainants across the region rising from 8,221 in June to 14,919 in July. That’s an 81 percent increase.
Among those areas seeing jumps in their night noise complainants between June, before the rotation plan, and July, after it started, were northwest suburbs. Elgin went from only two complainants to 1,654; Schaumburg, from 117 beefers to 1,475; and Elk Grove Village, from 1,032 to 2,788.
Southwest of O’Hare, Elmhurst saw night complainants rise from two to 80. To the northeast, Park Ridge beefers increased from 138 to 385.
Elmhurst Alderman Bob Dunn said he finally got some jet noise relief after O’Hare changed its flight paths in 2013. But the noise returned and calls to his office spiked the week of July 24, when night arrivals on one of O’Hare’s diagonal runways came in over Elmhurst under the new rotation plan.
Callers “were upset. It went on for a week,” Dunn said. Another week, Elmhurst was affected by departures on the same runway, but “arrivals are worse because they are lower and on a more consistent basis,” Dunn said.
The complaint data is not foolproof, as not everyone who experiences O’Hare jet noise complains officially about it. Plus, some of the increase in night complainants could have been due to heavier than normal night flights in July, when rains here and elsewhere pushed more day traffic into the overnight hours.
And although fewer 41st Ward residents filed night jet noise beefs in July than in June, the number of Chicago complainers from unknown wards — unknown because they did not list their exact addresses — increased. That hike helped push overall Chicago night complainants up from 5,403 in June to 6,724 in July. That’s a 24 percent increase.
In addition, Bensenville and Wood Dale, which should have seen relief west of O’Hare, did not experience the kind of drop in night noise complainants that Chicago’s 41st Ward saw.
To complain about O’Hare jet noise, citizens can call Chicago’s 311 number, phone a toll-free hotline 1-800-435-9569, fill out an online city form, or use the form at chicagonoisecomplaint.com created by a citizens group called Fair Allocation in Runways. FAIR automatically forwards its online beefs to the city for official tabulation.
Impacted residents also are asked to fill out at survey about the new night rotation plan at www.airportprojects.net/flyquiettest/.