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Group Forms to Fight New Flight Plan at O'Hare

 A plane takes off from O'Hare Airport.
A plane takes off from O'Hare Airport.
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CHICAGO — Several community groups have joined forces to oppose planned changes to O’Hare Airport flight patterns that they say will turn the wild blue yonder over their homes into "a virtual railroad track in the sky."

The Fair Allocation in Runways Coalition — made up of six community groups that have been protesting the changes for months — wants the Federal Aviation Administration to rethink plans that would increase air traffic over 33rd, 39th, 45th and 41st wards once a new runway opens this fall.

"The additional traffic will have a tremendous effect on our neighborhoods," said organizer Jac Charlier, an Edgebrook resident. "It is unbalanced and inequitable."

O'Hare Runway Morph
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Chicago Department of Aviation

The additional jet traffic will slash property values, threaten health and make it impossible to sleep, according to a policy statement issued by the coalition.

Part of the $6.6 billion O'Hare Modernization Plan, approved in 2001, the new runway — scheduled to open in October — will allow planes to depart and arrive at the airport from the east to west rather than using the airport's existing diagonal runways.

According to the FAA, the new flight pattern will keep jets from crossing each other’s paths on the ground and help avoid accidents. More flights will arrive and depart on time, even in bad weather, FAA officials said.

However, the change would mean that 85 percent of O'Hare arrivals and departures between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. will travel over homes in Sauganash, Forest Glen, Edgebrook and North Park, according to the coalition.

The number of flights from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. is set to jump from 15 to more than 90. During the day, would increase from 300 to more than 400, according to data provided by the O’Hare Compatibility Noise Commission.

The group wants the FAA to conduct another study of what the new runway will mean for the quality of life in the surrounding communities.

An original environmental impact study was completed in 2005, and does not properly address the hundreds of homes that will be experiencing more jet racket or take into account the loss of hundreds of thousands of pollution-reducing ash trees to the Emerald Ash Borer, according to the coalition's policy statement.

"We simply want the plan to be fair," Charlier said. "We want our voices to be heard in a meaningful way."

The group also calls for the now-voluntary Fly Quiet program, which advocates the use at night of flight paths over less populated areas such as forest preserves, to be made mandatory. 

In addition, the airport's sound proofing and noise abatement plans should be expanded and accelerated, the coalition says.

Under the current plan, noise levels around O'Hare will not be studied until five years after the modernization plan is completed. That could mean homes would not be eligible for sound proofing and noise abatement funding until 2025.

Ald. Mary O'Connor (41st), who hosted a community forum about the runway changes in April with officials from the city and the FAA, is working to move up that schedule in an effort to get affected homeowners in her ward money more quickly, said Jason Hernandez, a senior aide to O'Connor.

"No one is happy about these changes," Hernandez said, noting that the plan was approved by the Chicago City Council, former Mayor Richard M. Daley, the Illinois General Assembly and signed by the governor nearly a decade ago. "This is not something that we can stop."

O'Connor shares many residents' frustration about the change in the flight path, and is working to limit the impact on residents, Hernandez said.

The coalition, which formed two months ago, is made up of the Edgebrook Community Association, the Hollywood-North Park Community Association, the Sauganash Community Association, the Forest Glen Community Club and the Sauganash Park Community Association.

In a response to a letter from Sauganash Community Association President Renee Bennett denouncing the changes, FAA Regional Administrator Barry Cooper acknowledges the impact of jet noise on nearby homes but says the issue was "thoroughly analyzed" in the original environmental study.

The coalition understands that the modernization plan will go forward, Charlier said.

"We want our voices to be heard in a meaningful way," Charlier said.