Some Chicagoans won’t have to worry for at least several years that a new O’Hare International Airport runway will send planes roaring over their homes — and that includes Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a Chicago Sun-Times/Better Government Association investigation indicates.
The $516 million runway set to debut in October will be the only one of five east-west parallel runways not to create any traffic over Chicago — through at least 2021, Federal Aviation Administration draft plans indicate.
During that time, it will be the only such runway with pretty much one purpose, and that’s to bring in planes arriving from the west — over Bensenville and Wood Dale, FAA documents indicate. Less than 1 percent of the time, it could be used another way, an FAA official added.
Under draft plans to be outlined at four FAA public meetings in August, the new runway will increase arrival efficiency when O’Hare traffic flows with jets coming in from the west and leaving to the east, which is 30 percent of the time, FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro said. The other 70 percent of the time, O’Hare jets come in from the east, over Chicago, and leave to the west, in what Molinaro said is the “safest and most efficient” configuration.
Emanuel’s Ravenswood home in the 47th Ward is half a block north of what could someday be the new runway’s path for jets coming in from the east, according to digital city cartography files and experts.
But Emanuel and other Chicagoans won’t be hit with such traffic until at least 2021 — and only then if funding is found for another runway and a runway extension, FAA documents indicate. And so far, airlines have balked at paying for that work. Even if Chicagoans get hit with that traffic, it will be light, 2005 FAA plans indicate.
“They are delaying the traffic over Rahm’s house until 2021? That’s really convenient for Rahm,’’ said Darrin Thomas, a member of the Fair Allocation in Runways coalition, a group of community organizations which favor spreading out runway traffic more equitably.
“Half a billion dollars [for the new runway] is a lot of money to spend to not use a runway except in limited scenarios,’’ Thomas said.
Thomas questioned why the new runway can’t be used to siphon off traffic from other runways that have brought new waves of arriving jets over Chicago since October 2013. He has tracked the noise complaints through a website he created, chicagonoisecomplaint.com, that allows citizens to file multiple jet noise grievances in one visit and forward them to the city.
In October 2013, under an $8.7 billion overhaul plan, O’Hare made the big switch to using mostly east-west parallel runways instead of mostly diagonal ones aimed at suburbs north and south of the airport. Jet noise complaints have hit record levels ever since.
A retired O’Hare air traffic controller, who requested anonymity, said “there are no favorites being played here. It all has to do with the airport layout and how many arrivals and departures you can get in.’’
Emanuel’s home sits 11.7 miles east of the end of the new east-west runway. That may not seem that close to O’Hare, but homes as little as two blocks north of him just last month complained about jet noise from traffic caused by other runways, a Sun-Times/BGA analysis of chicagonoisecomplaint.com complaints indicate.
Currently, the FAA’s Molinaro said, only 56 to 96 flights an hour file into O’Hare from the west. With the new southernmost east-west runway, the landing rate will be 84 to 106 flights an hour, he said.
The new runway will be used in two different sets of what is called “triple approaches,” when O’Hare uses three runways to accept jets landing from the west, he said.
Only one set of “triple approaches” is planned for the far more dominant east-to-west pattern that’s used when the wind is from the west, FAA documents indicate.
Asked why the new east-west runway could not also be used for arrivals during east-to-west flow to reduce the jets over other Chicago neighborhoods, Molinaro emphasized that the current single triple-approach is the “safest and most efficient configuration” during that west flow. One runway used during those triple approaches — 28C — is longer and “preferable” for landings to the new runway, 28L, he said.
Some living west of O’Hare were stunned that the new runway will be used only for arrivals from the west, will not create any Chicago traffic and will not use an arrival flight path that would normally fly within half a block of Emanuel’s home for years.
“Wow, I’m speechless,’’ said Wood Dale Mayor Nunzio Pulice.
Chicago Department of Aviation spokesman Owen Kilmer said Emanuel had no influence over the FAA’s latest O’Hare flight plans.
The city wants all airport procedures to “maximize safety and efficiency and would never interfere with those twin goals,” Kilmer said.
A team of air traffic controllers and airport experts developed the plan “with a focus on the safest and most efficient use of the runways,” Molinaro said.
Bensenville Mayor Frank Soto questioned why the FAA wanted to use the two southernmost east-west runways, which are the airfield’s closest to any homes — all in Bensenville — in both triple approaches from the west. Bensenville homeowners are being hammered now by arrivals on the current southernmost east-west runway, he said.
Molinaro said planes will approach the new runway on a slight angle from the south rather than on a straight bead.
While some Chicagoans are being spared any traffic from the new runway, others north of them are screaming for relief that the new runway could offer, Soto said.
“When you see something like this, it raises a red flag,” he said. “There’s only a few people receiving a reprieve, and you wonder why.”
The FAA’s plan is “problematic” and “not fair,’’ Soto said. “It sacrifices some people for others.”
The story is part of an ongoing series by the Sun-Times and the Better Government Association.
FAA Documents Show Models of Various Flight Paths
Documents from a draft Federal Aviation Administration report show models of various flight paths in and out of O’Hare — depending on the wind and whether instrument or visual flight rules are used.
The first chart below reflects models after a new runway (10R/28L) launches in October. The second reflects models if funding is found for a second runway (9C/27C) due in 2020. Neither calls for bringing in arriving jets from the east, over the new south runway 10R/28L.
If a still-unfunded extension is added to a third runway as early as 2021, an FAA analysis done in 2005 calls for some traffic over Chicago on the new south runway. The draft FAA plan will be the subject of four August public meetings.