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O'Hare Runway Rotation Plan Heads Back To The Gate To Get Everyone On Board

 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 — A more detailed plan to rotate the O'Hare Airport runways used at night weekly in an effort to reduce jet noise will go back to the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission, after the first version of the proposal failed to win a strong endorsement from the group.

The revised "balanced approach" designed to spread out the nighttime noise is expected to return to the full commission for consideration at its May 6 meeting, said Owen Kilmer, a spokesman for the Chicago Department of Aviation.

Aviation department officials will try again to convince two-thirds of the commission's members to support 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.

The revised plan reflects ongoing input from Federal Aviation Administration officials as well as recommendations made by the Fair Allocation in Runways Coalition, Kilmer said.

Reporter Heather Cherone details concerns with the current plan.

The plan will be voted on again despite statements from commission chairwoman and Mount Prospect Mayor Arlene Juracek in March that the plan would be submitted to federal officials because it won a simple majority of votes.

The plan, which has been in the works for nine 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.

Opponents of the plan included 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, encourages pilots and air traffic controllers to fly over expressways, industrial areas and forest preserves to reduce the noise over residential areas from 10 p.m.-7 a.m. each night.

The plan still needs a green light from federal officials, and would be implemented during a six-month test, Kilmer said.

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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