Plan to distribute O’Hare noise approved by local commission

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An American Airlines plane prepares to land from the east beyond a street light at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. | Tim Boyle/For the Sun-Times

Representatives from communities and municipalities near O’Hare Airport on Friday overwhelmingly approved a plan to decrease noise levels by rotating the use of certain runways.

The O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission voted 51 – 8 in favor of an “Interim Fly Quiet Nighttime Runway Rotation Plan,” according to the commission.

The plan aims to implement different runways at different times to more evenly distribute airplane noise levels that have long been a thorn in the sides of residents near the airport.

The plan will next be sent to the Chicago Department of Aviation. Upon approval, it would be sent to the Federal Aviation Administration, which would conduct an environmental impact study, according to the commission.

The program could go into effect in late 2018 at the earliest. It would remain in place until the completion Runway 9C-27C in 2020.

The newly approved plan features an eight-week flight rotation with six configurations arranged to switch each week. It would utilize different runways — some parallel and some diagonal — and alternate air traffic between areas east and west of the airport, according to the commission.

“The Interim Fly Quiet rotation is a critical part of the CDA’s mission to be a good neighbor and reduce noise exposure for the communities most heavily impacted as O’Hare’s airfield modernization continues,” Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans said in a statement.

“Looking ahead, we will continue partnering with the ONCC and with the FAA to ensure the Interim Fly Quiet rotation provides even greater predictability and quieter conditions for our neighbors.”

Commission Chair and Mount Prospect Mayor Arlene Juracek threw her support behind the plan because it “best met the goals and guidelines outlined by the committee at the start of the runway rotation process — to provide near-term relief; to reduce impacts to the highest impacted communities; and to provide predictability to the nearest extent possible.”

Al Rapp, a leader of Fair Allocation in Runways, was among the voices of dissent at the vote. FAiR represents between 3,000 to 5,000 people who live near the airport and “support a rotation that makes use of all existing runways.”

Rapp contends that neighboring suburbs are being pitted against each other to decide where the noise levels should be distributed when it’s actually the city’s responsibility.

“The suburbs are going after each other about who’s going to take this noise and the City of Chicago is sitting back, saying ‘Let them deal with it,’” Rapp said. “The City of Chicago is the owner and operator, so they should be paving the way for a solution.”

Chicago Ald. John Arena (45th) acknowledged that “there is no perfect solution and advised the committee to not “allow things to devolve into tribal instincts.”

“All we are asking is that we approach the situation with a sense of fairness, and shared burden as well as benefit,” he said.

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