Aviation commissioner meets with noise-weary residents near O’Hare

SHARE Aviation commissioner meets with noise-weary residents near O’Hare
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Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans met Monday with O’Hare-area residents, their elected officials and FAIR. | Sun-Times file photo

Noise-weary residents around O’Hare Airport on Monday finally got the audience they’ve been seeking with Chicago’s aviation commissioner — and came away hopeful that their demand to save O’Hare’s criss-crossing, diagonal runways will be heard.

Newly appointed Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans last week appeared to slam the door on saving diagonal runways that the Fair Allocation in Runways coalition contends holds the key to a more equitable distribution of flights.

“First and foremost, O’Hare’s triangular runway pattern — with runways in three directions — has to go. … It is inefficient, outdated and, frankly, not as safe a configuration. … These new parallel runways are essential for maximizing safety at our busy airports,” Evans told the City Club of Chicago.

Evans was singing a different tune Monday.

At the first of at least three meetings with O’Hare-area residents and their elected officials mandated by state law, the new commissioner not only listened to their complaints about a barrage of jet noise that keeps people awake at night and forces them to keep their windows closed and air-conditioners on, no matter how cool it gets.

Evans also opened her mind to FAIR’s demands. Chief among them is a pledge not to decommission any of four criss-crossing diagonal runways, even after a new parallel runway opens later this year. Killing off any diagonal runways could shift even more flights over city residents east of O’Hare already complaining about a bombardment of new jet noise.

Another key demand is to halt an October 2013 take-off and landing plan in favor of a “fair allocation of runway traffic between existing and new runways” for both daytime and nighttime traffic.

“For the first time ever, the response was not, ‘No.’ It was not, ‘We’ll take it under advisement,’ which is the same as saying, ‘No.’ We actually got a response,” FAIR leader Jac Charlier said. “The response was ‘That’s an interesting idea. Let’s talk about that,’ or, ‘We can talk about that.’ That makes this meeting a success.”

“Unlike the previous commissioner, who did not grasp what it meant to talk with citizens, this commissioner responded to our questions and asked us questions back. That simple dialogue has never happened before — ever.”

Pressed on whether he’s concerned about the statement that Evans made to the City Club last week, Charlier said, “When you have a person who makes two comments that are very different, the best thing to do is to continue to engage them in conversation. We always proceed from [the assumption that she is] being an honest broker.”

The closed-door meeting was held at the Chicago Department of Aviation’s offices on Zemke Road at O’Hare. Evans could not be reached for comment about the two-hour meeting.

Bensenville Village President Frank Soto agreed that removing the diagonal runways would make a bad situation infinitely worse.

“You’re reducing options how to fly. You’re concentrating all of your flights over specific communities. It doesn’t create balance or an equitable distribution,” Soto said.

Arguing that Bensenville is absorbing more than its fair share of flights, Soto said, “Some of my residents live within 3,500 feet of one of the most used runways. They’re not sleeping at night. It’s a very difficult quality of life. And we have one more runway expected to be completed in October that also faces Bensenville. That would create four runways impacting Bensenville.”

FAIR member Colleen Mulcrone said she was equally optimistic after the face-to-face meeting with Evans.

“We were given an opportunity to say all of the things we’ve proposed and to articulate [what] people are dealing with,” Mulcrone said.

“Diagonal runways due to be decommissioned hold the key. … In spite of what was said before, we have to look at this meeting as the starting point for that dialogue. You can’t have a dialogue if something is set in stone.”

Complaints about O’Hare jet noise have skyrocketed to record numbers since flight patterns were dramatically altered more than a year ago as part of the $8 billion O’Hare Modernization Program.

The big switch left Chicago and suburban areas immediately east and west of the airport suddenly bearing 70 percent of all O’Hare air traffic. Residents who never experienced heavy jet noise before contend they were blindsided by the blitz of new planes over their homes.

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