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O'Hare Runway Rotation Plan: Don't Use Newest Runway To Reduce Noise

 In May, the rotation plan will try again to win a strong endorsement from the noise commission.
In May, the rotation plan will try again to win a strong endorsement from the noise commission.
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Flickr/ Jim Wissemes

O'HARE — A revised plan plan to rotate every week the O'Hare Airport runways used at night would limit the use of the newest — and longest — runway at O’Hare in an effort to let the airport's neighbors get a good night's sleep.

The plan to reduce jet noise calls for one runway to be used for arrivals and another one for departures in an effort to spread out the nighttime noise from 10:45 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. The runways in use would change every week as part of a 12-week cycle, according to the proposal from the city's Aviation Department officials.

The plan — touted as a "balanced approach" by city officials — would limit the use of the airport's longest runway, which opened in October, in an effort to reduce noise for residents who live near the south side of the airport.

Reporter Heather Cherone explains the new plan for noise reduction at O'Hare.

But the runway — known as 10L/28R — would be available for cargo planes, who need a longer runway to land safely, officials said.

Aviation Department officials will try to persuade two-thirds of the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission on May 6 to support the plan despite concerns that it could mean more jet noise at night for residents of suburbs north and west of the city even as it could quiet the skies over parts of Chicago.

A super-majority of the commission declined to endorse the plan in March, prompting city aviation officials to try again.

In addition to rotating the runways used every week, the type of runways used also would change weekly. One week, planes would land on parallel east-west runways. The next week, planes would land on diagonal runways, which anti-O'Hare noise activists have long contended is the best way to reduce jet noise over residential areas.

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. Two other diagonal runways will remain in service at O'Hare even after the $8.7 billion modernization plan is completed.

City officials have steadfastly rejected pleas from members of the Fair Allocation in Runways Coalition to keep all four original diagonal runways in service at O'Hare.

Despite the detailed plans, planes would not have to follow the revised "Fly Quiet" policy if wind or other weather conditions would make using those runways dangerous, officials said. In addition, air traffic control or airport operators could direct planes to other runways.

The rotation plan, which was announced in July, 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 last year.

The restrictions on nighttime operations at O'Hare, known as Fly Quiet, are "useless" and "totally inadequate," noise commission Chairwoman Arelene 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.

If two-thirds of the commission approves it, the plan would head to federal officials for final approval. Plans call for a six-month test to begin in June or July.

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