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Despite Opposition, City Takes First Step to Dismantle O'Hare Runway

 A plane headed to O'Hare Airport soars over homes in Edison Park.
A plane headed to O'Hare Airport soars over homes in Edison Park.
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DNAinfo/Heather Cherone

O'HARE — Planes can no longer land during bad weather on one of the last remaining diagonal runways at O'Hare Airport, city officials said Wednesday, acknowledging they had removed equipment that helps pilots touch down safely in certain conditions.

State Sen. John Mulroe (D-Norwood Park) said Wednesday he believed the move was the first step toward decommissioning the runway despite the fact that two bills pending in the Illinois House of Representatives would keep the runway in service in an effort to spread out the racket caused by planes traveling to and from O'Hare Airport via new east-west runways.

"I think what's going on is a little bit more than moving some equipment," Mulroe said.

Mulroe said he planned to ask Attorney General Lisa Madigan to order city and airport officials to make no further changes to the diagonal runway until the fate of the bills is resolved.

"We don't want another Meigs Field situation," Mulroe said, referring to former Mayor Richard M. Daley's decision to tear up the runways at the downtown airport that he wanted to turn into a park under the cover of night. "They need to stop before it's too late."

Chicago Department of Aviation Spokeswoman Karen Pride said Wednesday the removal of the instrument landing system would have a "negligible" impact on the ability of planes to take off or land on the diagonal runway, known officially as 14L/32R.

Pilots use instrument landing systems to navigate during inclement weather, when other types of equipment are unreliable, aviation officials said.

The runway scheduled to be decommissioned has been used for only 1 percent of daytime operations at O'Hare, because it intersects with three other runways, Federal Aviation Administration officials said.

The runway can be used for departures as well as arrivals under certain circumstances that allow pilots to use Global Positioning Systems to navigate and land safely, Pride said.

"None of the activity which has taken place affects the pending legislation," Pride said in a statement. "We remain willing to work with Springfield on something that is workable for all parties involved."

One bill pending in the house would allow O'Hare to operate 10 runways. The airport now operates eight runways, with the diagonal runway at issue set to be taken out of service on Aug. 20 as a new east-west runway prepares to open to traffic Oct. 15.

The other bill would prevent airport officials from tearing up any diagonal runways.

The Fair Allocation in Runways Coalition, which helped Mulroe author the bill, has been campaigning to keep the diagonal runway in use as the best way to reduce the sound of jets over the Northwest Side that residents say have made it impossible to sleep, spend time in their backyards, play in neighborhood parks or watch television.

Heather Cherone discusses FAIR's recent efforts to meet with officials:

Angry residents have blanketed local and federal officials with tens of thousands of complaints since the newest east-west runway opened more than 2½ years ago.

The new runway set to open in October could send even more air traffic over Edison Park, Norwood Park, Jefferson Park, North Park and Sauganash, where residents heard little to no jet noise before the flight path was altered in 2013, according to the coalition.

House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie declined Wednesday to hold a hearing on Mulroe's bills, telling an aide to the senator that they were not ready to be considered by the house's transportation committee, Mulroe said.

"I'm not sure what her issues are," Mulroe said. "The bills were ready to get through the Senate."

Bills must be given the green light by the committee by Friday, Mulroe said. The deadline for the House to pass the bills is May 22, unless the deadlines are waived, he added.

The State Senate unanimously approved the bills earlier this month.

It is unclear if Gov. Bruce Rauner would sign the bills.

City officials contend the O'Hare Modernization Plan — designed to make airport operations safer and more efficient — is crucial to ensuring Chicago's growth by keeping the airport among the busiest in the world, encouraging both business travelers and tourists to visit Chicago.

The east-west runways allows planes to take off and land without crossing paths with other jets while on the ground, which aviation officials said are designed to reduce delays and increase safety.

In March, 352,846 complaints were filed with city officials — an all-time record and a nearly 893,000 percent increase from the number of jet noise complaints filed in January, according to data released by the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission.

The decision to move equipment from the diagonal runway was first reported by the Sun-Times.

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