City, citizens group unveil dueling O’Hare night flight solutions

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A consultant for the Chicago Department of Aviation Monday recommended that more O’Hare night departures take angled flight paths off runways. | Rosalind Rossi/Sun-Times

Dueling visions for how O’Hare Airport runways should be used at night were unveiled Monday, with city officials relying primarily on parallel runways and a citizens group preferring heavier use of diagonal ones.

With O’Hare jet noise complaints closing in on 3 million so far this year, two different sets of flight path plans emerged during a sometimes tense meeting of an Ad Hoc O’Hare Fly Quiet Committee.

A consultant for the Chicago Department of Aviation offered some homeowners west of O’Hare — now bombarded with 70 percent of airport departures — an extra layer of relief with one idea. He suggested sending more departing night flights off on an angle right after they leave runways so they could quickly connect into “flight corridors” over less populated areas.

In one case, for example, night flights that now depart parallel Runway 28C and head straight west or angle to the south over Bensenville and Wood Dale would instead angle north.

Exactly which suburbs would be newly affected was difficult to determine because the Aviation Department’s consultant omitted the names of all suburbs and city wards from his map of recommended night departure flight paths.

Under the city’s proposal, residents both east and west of O’Hare, including Chicagoans, also would see relief by limiting the airport to a pair of runways – one for arrivals and another for departures – that would rotate on a weekly or monthly basis between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.

But city consultant Doug Goldberg of Landrum & Brown made clear that current traffic requires more than a single arrival and departure runway during the hour immediately before and after Fly Quiet hours.

Members of the Fair Allocation in Runways coalition, or FAIR, argued that diagonal runways that send traffic north and south of O’Hare and are due for demolition should be used as the predominant nighttime runways to give homeowners east and west of O’Hare some relief from near 24/7 bombardment. Plus, they noted, planes using such runways fly over among the least populated areas.

“What the city is proposing has opportunities in it, but the ideal already exists,” said Colleen Mulcrone of FAIR.

“Because people living east and west of the airport bear the brunt of the daytime operations, special emphasis should be placed on using the diagonal runways,” another FAIR leader, Al Rapp, told the Ad Hoc Fly Quiet Committee of the O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission.

Although the city wants to rip up two such runways — one as early as next spring — airlines have yet to agree to help bankroll that work, Rapp noted later. State lawmakers reflected the “will of the people” when they passed a bill earlier this year allowing O’Hare to keep all its diagonal runways open, Rapp said.

One 39th Ward resident, James Nutter, made an emotional plea to the committee, asking it to provide him some relief from arrivals on 28C, which was added to the airfield in October 2013. Nutter said he and his fiancé were “fried” from all the traffic.

“I’ve aged three years in one year,’’ Nutter said.

Chicago Ald. Joseph Napolitano said Nutter represented the “epitome” of the kind of complaints that walk into his 41st Ward office every day. He noted that a shift in flight paths could also change a “noise contour” that determines eligibility for soundproofing. By the time federal officials approve any new contour, Napolitano said, “you’re looking at a major exit in the 41st Ward.”

FAIR’s Rapp noted later that many of the angled flight paths and multiple early-morning arrival runways recommended by the city’s consultant are being used now, although that was difficult to determine from the information the city gave Ad Hoc visitors Monday.

“They just want a high sign … saying we rubber-stamped” what the city is already doing, which often ignores voluntary Fly Quiet rules, Rapp said. Any new Fly Quiet rules should be made mandatory, he said.

Although FAIR has a seat at the table during Fly Quiet discussions, it is not allowed to vote on Fly Quiet Committee recommendations which also must be approved by the O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission and the Federal Aviation Administration.

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