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Plan Designed To Quiet Night Skies Near O'Hare Wins Federal Approval

By Heather Cherone | July 5, 2016 10:12am | Updated on July 6, 2016 10:51am
 A plane soars over the Northwest Side, where federal officials have approved a test to reduce flight noise, beginning Wednesday.
A plane soars over the Northwest Side, where federal officials have approved a test to reduce flight noise, beginning Wednesday.
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DNAinfo/Heather Cherone

O'HARE — A plan to rotate every week the O'Hare Airport runways used at night won approval Tuesday from the Federal Aviation Administration.

A six-month test of the rotation will start Wednesday night, said Tony Molinaro, a spokesman for the FAA.

The plan would would direct all O'Hare jet traffic from about 11 p.m. to about 5 a.m. to just one runway for arrivals and one for departures. The runways in use would change every week as part of a 12-week cycle, according to the plan.

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.

City leaders celebrated federal officials' approval of the plan, which has been in the works for a year.

"This plan is critical to immediately reducing noise exposure for the communities most severely impacted," Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans said. "We will continue to pursue ways to ensure that Chicago's airports are good neighbors to residents while also remaining one of the largest economic engines of the city of Chicago."

The rotation will include a diagonal runway on the west side of the airport, which is slated to be demolished in 2018 as part of the final phase of the airport expansion, Chicago Aviation officials said.

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.

"This plan is one of our many efforts to preserve the quality of life in the neighborhoods near O'Hare, and it reflects the type of solutions we can achieve when everyone works together," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement.

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.

In addition, planes would not have to take off or land on the designated runways if wind or weather conditions would make using those runways dangerous, officials said. Air traffic control or airport operators also could direct planes to other runways.

In addition to rotating the runways weekly, officials said they would change the type of runways used. 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.

A schedule of which runways will be in use at night is available online so people will know what to expect, officials said. A report of operations will be published each week by Chicago Aviation officials.

In addition, residents can provide weigh in on the rotation via an online survey.

While federal regulations define nighttime airport operations as starting at 10 p.m. and lasting until 7 a.m., the plan would allow an additional runway to be used for departures from 10-11 p.m. In addition, a second arrival runway would be available from 5-6 a.m. if needed.

The $8.7 billion O'Hare Modernization Program has sent hundreds of flights over areas of the Northwest Side, such as North Park, Jefferson Park, Edgebrook, Edison Park and Norwood Park, that previously heard little or no jet noise before an east-west runway opened in October 2013.

That incensed many residents, who have inundated both elected officials and the city's official complaint hotline with more than 500,0000 complaints since the beginning of the year.

After the six-month pilot program ends Dec. 24, the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission and city Aviation officials will decide whether to make the rotation permanent.

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