O'HARE — Aviation officials reluctant to confront residents infuriated by the racket made by jets using O'Hare International Airport's new runway are behind a massive delay that has halted plans to hold a Chicago City Council hearing on the issue, U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley said.
"There should be a public discussion, a public hearing," Quigley said in an interview with DNAinfo.com Chicago, adding that he is "aggravated" that the hearing — originally scheduled for January — has not yet taken place.
Heather Cherone joins DNAinfo Radio to discuss U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley's comments on O'Hare noise:
After complaints to the city-run toll-free hotline began to soar once the new runway opened, Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th) and Ald. Mary O'Connor (41st) called for the hearing to get answers from airport officials about what can be done to turn down the volume.
"I don't think they want to have a meeting because there will be a lot of angry people there," Quigley said. "That's not a fun thing, but that's what we do. It is part of the job of being in government."
The hearing could prove an embarrassment for Federal Aviation Administration officials as well as representatives of the city's Aviation Department, Quigley said.
O'Connor and Laurino said earlier this month the hearing has been delayed because of schedule conflicts.
But O'Connor acknowledged that some of the delay has been caused because there is a question of what can be done to change the arrival and departure flight paths to satisfy angry residents of some of the most affluent areas of the city.
Federal aviation officials said the flight patterns at O'Hare are designed to ensure the airport operates as efficiently and as safely as possible.
FAA spokesman Anthony Molinaro said that federal and local officials held several meetings on the Far Northwest Side last year before the new runway opened.
"We hosted evening sessions and spent hours face-to-face with city and suburban residents talking about the changing flight patterns and noise contours," Molinaro said.
Chicago Aviation Department spokeswoman Karen Pride said her agency "supports holding a public hearing and has been working with the aldermen and congressmen to schedule a date for the hearing that works for all parties involved."
Part of the $6.6 billion O'Hare Modernization Plan, approved in 2001, the new runway allows planes to take off and land without crossing paths with other jets while on the ground, which is expected to reduce delays.
Both federal and local aviation officials have rejected calls from Quigley and community groups to reduce the hundreds of flights over homes in Norwood Park, Sauganash, Forest Glen, Edgebrook and North Park that had little or no jet noise in previous years.
With the opening of a new runway last October, most planes now take off toward the west, while arrivals approach from the east.
Residents angry about the increased noise — likened by some to a "virtual railroad track in the sky" over their homes — have deluged the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission with complaints, saying the noise has reduced their quality of life by polluting their communities and lowering the value of their homes.
Quigley said he had also objected to changes announced earlier this month to the airport's flight path that could mean even more noise over some Far Northwest Side neighborhoods.
The changes, requested by the National Transportation Safety Board, are required to reduce the chance of midair plane collisions.
Saying that the safety of planes has to be the first priority, Quigley said he had encouraged FAA officials to keep all runways open "as an option to disperse noise and traffic."
"It is only going to get worse as it warms up and people leave their houses and open up their windows," Quigley said.
Aviation Department officials rejected Quigley's calls to extend the hours of the airport's voluntary "fly quiet" program, which urges planes to choose flight paths over less-populated areas, such as forest preserves and expressways, from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. The program should start at 9 p.m., according to the congressman.
The schedules of too many flights would be changed by expanding the program, said Chicago Aviation Department Commissioner Rosemarie S. Andolino.
Andolino also rejected Quigley's request to spread out arrivals and departures among all of the airport runways, saying it would "simply displace noise impacts from one neighborhood to another.''
Quigley also has asked FAA officials to allow more homes around O'Hare to qualify for subsidized soundproofing, such as new attic insulation, air conditioning, exterior doors, storm doors and windows that block all noise.