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O'Hare Runway Rotation Plan Approved Overwhelmingly

By Heather Cherone | May 6, 2016 9:31am | Updated on May 9, 2016 7:04am
 The plan to reduce jet noise calls for one runway to be used for arrivals and another one for departures.
The plan to reduce jet noise calls for one runway to be used for arrivals and another one for departures.
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O'HARE — A revised plan plan to rotate every week the O'Hare Airport runways used at night won a overwhelming endorsement Friday morning from the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission.

All of the representatives of Chicago's wards voted to support the rotation plan, which now heads to the Federal Aviation Administration to implement a six-month test, which is expected to start in June or July.

The only votes against the plan came from representatives of Arlington Heights, Des Plaines, Hoffman Estates, Palatine and Rolling Meadows, who fear their residents west of the city would hear more noise at night than they do now.

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 city Aviation Department officials.

About 80 planes are expected to take off and land at the airport during the specified late night-early morning hours, officials told the commission.

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

But that runway would be available for cargo planes, which need a longer runway to land safely, officials said.

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

In addition to rotating the runways used every week, officials propose changing the type of runways used 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 city Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans as a "big breakthrough" in city officials' effort to reduce the jet noise that prompted more than 4 million complaints last year.

After the six-month pilot program, the commission will decide whether to make the rotation permanent.

The current "Fly Quiet" restrictions on nighttime operations at O'Hare 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.

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