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FAA Rejects Call For New O'Hare Noise Study, Reps 'Extremely' Disappointed

By Heather Cherone | September 11, 2014 2:16pm
 Planes on the tarmac at O'Hare Airport.
Planes on the tarmac at O'Hare Airport.
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Flickr/Aero Icarus

O'HARE — Federal aviation officials rejected calls from three Chicago-area congressmen to re-do a study of how new flight paths to and from O'Hare Airport impact Northwest Side neighborhoods.

U.S. Reps. Mike Quigley, Tammy Duckworth and Jan Schakowsky said the decision was "extremely disappointing" in light of the fact that many Chicagoans were watching their "quality of life rapidly deteriorat[e]" because of the racket made by jets using the airport's new east-west runway, according to a joint statement released Thursday.

Jac Charlier, one of the founders of the Fair Allocation in Runways Coalition — a group that formed 18 months ago to object to the new runway at O'Hare — said he was not surprised that the FAA rejected the request for a new study.

“This fits the mold of their previous decisions,” Charlier said. “They do not want to be a good neighbor.”

Heather Cherone says while expected, the announcement is a big blow to residents affected by jet noise:

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said the three-year long study of the environmental impact of the $6.6 billion O'Hare Modernization Program "was one of the most comprehensive environmental analyses we have ever conducted" in a letter dated Sept. 5.

Huerta's rejection of the request by Quigley, Duckworth and Schakowsky comes as no surprise — federal officials have repeatedly defended the study as adequate in the face of fierce criticism from residents and elected officials besieged with complaints about jet noise.

Huerta disputed reports that incorrect data was used in hearings held before the voluminous study was completed, saying only one data table in a draft version of the report was incorrect. That table was not used by those completing the study, and was corrected before the final version was approved, Huerta wrote.

Huerta also dismissed concerns that hearings a decade ago were not held in the areas of Chicago and its suburbs that have been hardest hit by noise from jets using a new runway that opened in October 2013.

"We held public hearings in locations that accommodated the expected high turnout and provided access to the largest number of impacted communities," Huerta wrote.

However, the congressmen said a new environmental study was needed because runways have opened out of sequence, new rules governing converging runways have pushed even more air traffic on the east-west runway and neighborhoods have been flooded with unexpected noise.

"There is more work to be done at all levels, and we will continue to push the FAA toward meaningful solutions that can provide relief to residents who are losing both sleep and patience,” according to the statement from Quigley, Duckworth and Schakowsky.

Since July of 2013 — before the new runway opened — the number of complaints about jet noise have skyrocketed more than 1,100 percent, according to data from the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission.

Federal aviation officials said the flight patterns at O'Hare were designed to ensure the airport operated as efficiently and safely as possible.

The FAA is working to complete an initial assessment of whether additional environmental studies are needed to determine the impact of a new runway scheduled to open in October 2015 on noise and air pollution. 

FAA officials said that review would be complete by the fall of 2015, but members of the noise commission have urged them to complete it by Jan. 1, 2015.

That examination will determine whether the changes since the initial study are  significant enough to require a new study, one that could take three-and-a-half years.

But that assessment does not address the noise and pollution created by planes using the runway that opened in October 2013 and sent hundreds more flights over Far Northwest Side homes that had little or no jet noise in previous years.

For more Northwest Side news from Heather Cherone, listen here: