O'HARE — A plan to rotate the O'Hare Airport runways used at night weekly in an effort to reduce jet noise will go to federal officials — even though it failed to win a strong endorsement from the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission.
Officials with the city Department of Aviation initially said the plan to direct all O'Hare jet traffic from approximately 11 p.m. to approximately 5 a.m. to just one runway for arrivals and one for departures needed support from a super majority — or a ⅔ vote of the commission's members — before it could be submitted to Federal Aviation Administration officials for approval.
But when it became clear the vote would fail to meet that threshold, commission Chairwoman and Mount Prospect Mayor Arlene Juracek said the plan would move forward anyway since it won a simple majority of votes from the commission.
The plan, which had been in the works for eight months, has been touted by Chicago Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans a "big breakthrough" in city officials' effort to reduce the jet noise that prompted more than 4 million complaints in 2015.
The opposition was led by representatives of suburbs west of the city, including Park Ridge, Elmwood Park and Franklin Park, who said the plan — which must be approved and implemented by federal officials — would mean more jet noise at night for residents of those towns, even as it could quiet the skies over parts of Chicago.
The current voluntary restrictions on nighttime operations at O'Hare, known as Fly Quiet, are "useless" and "totally inadequate," Juracek said. That program encourages pilots and air traffic controllers to fly over expressways, industrial areas and forest preserves to reduce the noise over residential areas at night.
The plan still needs a green light from federal officials, who could start meeting with city aviation officials as soon as next week to begin filling in the details of how the plan would be implemented during a six-month test set to begin in June or July.
Juracek and Evans promised to bring those detailed plans back to the commission to allow its members to review the precise ways planes will be directed to take off and land starting at 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. each night.
The pair of runways picked for nighttime air travel would change every week in an effort to give areas surrounding the airport a break from the jet noise that some residents contend has made it impossible for them to get an uninterrupted night of sleep since an east-west runway opened in 2013.
The rotation would include a diagonal runway on the west side of the airport until 2019, when it is slated to be demolished as part of the final phase of the airport expansion.
City officials have steadfastly rejected pleas from members of the Fair Allocation in Runways Coalition to keep the runways in service at O'Hare as the only way to reduce jet noise over the Northwest Side.
But planes would not have to follow the revised Fly Quiet policy if wind or weather conditions would make using those runways dangerous, officials said. In addition, air traffic control or airport operators could also direct planes to other runways.
A schedule of which runways will be in use at night would be published so people will know what to expect, officials said.
The plan would allow an additional runway to be used for departures from 10-11 p.m. to meet demand. In addition, a second arrival runway would be available from 5-6 a.m. if needed.
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