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O'Hare's New Flight Plan Pits City Versus Suburbs in Noisy Debate

By  Heather Cherone and Patty Wetli | February 4, 2013 6:33am 

 Jet at O'Hare International Airport, Chicago.
Jet at O'Hare International Airport, Chicago.
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Getty Images/File Photo

CHICAGO — Northwest Side neighborhood groups are fuming over planned changes to O’Hare Airport flight patterns they say will bring more jet racket and slash property values.

“Make noise now or you’ll get it later,” declares one online petition launched by No Noise NW Chicago protesting the change.

Airplane traffic over the 33rd, 39th, 45th and 41st wards could increase by 500 percent at night and 40 percent during the day once the latest phase of the O’Hare Modernization Plan is completed in late 2013, according to data provided by the O’Hare Compatibility Noise Commission.

The number of jets on a flight path above Thorndale Avenue from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. is set to jump from 15 to more than 90.

During the day, the number of planes following the same route could increase from 300 to more than 400, according to data provided by the commission.

Several city neighborhood groups have expressed their ire with city and federal aviation officials, and two aldermen have said they are organizing town hall hearings in response.

The online petition asking the federal government to stop the plan had already garnered more than 425 signatures as of Monday morning.

“We want to at least limit the additional noise and its impact on our beautiful neighborhood,” said Jeff Manuel, president of the Edgebrook Community Association. “It is important to at least register our displeasure.”

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Tony Molinaro said the new pattern is due to new runways that will keep jets from crossing each other’s paths on the ground and help avoid accidents.

The new traffic pattern will also mean more flights will arrive and depart on time, even in bad weather, Molinaro said.

Manuel and other community leaders are working to organize a summit of groups from all of the affected neighborhoods.

“We want the FAA to justify the change,” Manuel said. “A lot of people are concerned. Some are resigned, but everyone is concerned.”

In addition to the Edgebrook association, the Hollywood-North Park Community Associationthe Sauganash Community Association, the Forest Glen Community Club and the Sauganash Park Community Association have sent letters challenging the plan to elected officials, as well as the City of Chicago’s Department of Aviation and the FAA.

“We really need to get citizens aroused,” said Judie Simpson, a Hollywood-North Park Community Association board member. “Otherwise, it’s just going to get railroaded over us.”

The additional jet noise — especially in the early morning and late at night — will lead to decreased property values and a reduction in the quality of life throughout the Northwest Side, the community groups argue.

Though the largest planes will continue to follow the flight path above Lawrence Avenue between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. en route to the airport's main runway, the majority of nighttime landings on the east side of the airport will be shifted to follow the Thorndale flight path, said Andy Ginocchio, who serves as the 39th Ward’s representative on the noise commission.

The shift will result in less airplane noise over Albany Park and Jefferson Park.

“Lawrence has had this night traffic for 50 years," said Ginocchio, who started the petition. "Operationally, there’s no reason to move the traffic.”

Additionally, a new runway, which will route planes over Wilson Avenue and is set to open in the fall, will be closed overnight.

Ginocchio claimed the new plan favors the suburbs over the city.

 Changes to the traffic pattern at O'Hare International Airport may send more noisy jets over the city's Northwest Side neighborhoods
Changes to the traffic pattern at O'Hare International Airport may send more noisy jets over the city's Northwest Side neighborhoods
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Facebook/O'Hare International Airport

Two diagonal runways at O’Hare will be closed, reducing air traffic over Hoffman Estates, Mt. Prospect, Rolling Meadows, Arlington Heights and Palatine. Additionally, the changes will mean an 80 percent reduction in the number of flights over North Shore suburbs, including Wilmette, Winnetka, Kenilworth and Glencoe.

“You’re going to give us noise around the clock,” said Ginocchio, a retired planning professional. “How is that our fair share?”

The flights should be routed over unpopulated areas such as Busse Woods and the Elgin-O’Hare expressway, Ginocchio said.

"When you have an option to fly over no people, do it," he said. "Common sense things like this are needed."

The FAA's Molinaro said most of the additional flights over the complaining neighborhoods will take off and land between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m., and 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. He added that from midnight to 5 a.m., there will only be a handful of additional flights.

“It will also depend on the wind patterns,” Molinaro said. “Some nights, these neighborhoods will get no additional noise.”

When the modernization plan is complete, the airport will feature six parallel runways, as well as two cross-wind runways.

Any increase in the number of flights will happen gradually and depend on the economy, aviation officials said.

The city and the FAA will make every effort to address community concerns, said Chicago Aviation Department spokeswoman Karen Pride, adding the changes to the flight paths were approved by the FAA in 2005.

Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th) is working with airport officials to schedule one or two town-hall style meetings to give community members a chance to voice their objections, said her press secretary, Manuel Galvan.

Laurino has not taken a position on the additional flights over her ward, which includes Sauganash, Edgebrook and Forest Glen, Galvan said.

Ald. Mary O’Connor (41st) is also working to bring the groups and the FAA together at town hall meetings to make sure all objections are heard, said O’Connor’s senior advisor, Jason Hernandez.

She has also not taken a position.