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O'Hare 'Fly Quiet' Runway Rotation Likely Headed For Round 2 In Spring

By Alex Nitkin | February 9, 2017 6:15am
 City residents filed almost 108,000 noise complaints between July and November last year, when the program was in effect.
City residents filed almost 108,000 noise complaints between July and November last year, when the program was in effect.
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DNAinfo/Heather Cherone

O'HARE — City aviation officials are likely to trot out another test run of the O'Hare Fly Quiet runway rotation program this year, saying last year's trial balloon successfully spread the burden of jet noise among homes on all sides of the airport.

While the program created some headaches for airlines and air traffic controllers, city aviation officials touted numbers Wednesday suggesting that the six-month trial brought relief to Chicagoans and suburbanites living under commercial flight paths.

"There are several steps involved here, but we do anticipate restarting some version of the program in the spring," said Aaron Frame, a deputy commissioner for the city's aviation department, at a committee meeting of the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission Wednesday.

 Members of the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission's
Members of the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission's "Ad-Hoc Fly Quiet Committee" discuss the results of last year's program.
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DNAinfo/Alex Nitkin

Facing a groundswell of complaints from residents who said a new runway has sent jumbo jets zooming above their homes since it opened in 2013, the commission approved the Fly Quiet program last spring in an effort to temper the noise. Between July and December, the program directed overnight flights to change their takeoff and landing paths every week, ideally keeping any one neighborhood from being pummeled by low-flying planes.

Pilots used the suggested routes about two-thirds of the time, officials said Wednesday. Because pilots typically try to land against the wind for maximum control, volatile weather sometimes led them to veto the suggestions, which federal regulations bar from being mandatory.

Additionally, every night the program diverted an average of 11 "wide-bodied aircraft" — the largest, noisiest category of plane — away from the airport's longest two runways, which line up with neighborhoods like Dunning and Jefferson Park. About 100 planes take off and land between 11 p.m.-6 a.m., when the Fly Quiet program was typically in effect, officials said.

The results of a public online survey suggested that a narrow majority of residents near the airport approved of the program and wanted it to continue. The survey registered responses from more than 6,100 people, including 746 people who said they live in Chicago.

But one factor aviation officials didn't include in their report was the number of noise complaints registered through 311, which surged in 2016 to more than 1 million in the city alone.

"Look at the number of complaints — you guys cannot walk away from 500,000 complaints a month," Norwood Park resident Frank Gagliardi told the commission.

"The complaint form is much easier for people to fill out than the survey," said Gagliardi, a member of the Fair Allocation in Runways Coalition. "So why are they filing them in the first place? You'd better start answering that question."

City residents filed almost 108,000 jet noise complaints with the city between July and November, while the Fly Quiet program was in effect, just a 3 percent drop compared to the previous five months, according to data released by the commission. The number of people filing complaints, meanwhile, fell by about 9 percent.

The trial run was successful enough for Ald. John Arena (45th), who sits on the commission, to vote to give it at least one more shot, he said.

"I think what we were looking for was to establish some base line about what the fair allocation of runway use looks like, so we can improve on that and come up with a plan moving forward," Arena said. "So I think another short-term test ... would be welcomed by the communities that saw some benefit here, and that will give us another window of evaluation so we can move toward full implementation."

A permanent overnight rotation plan would be unlikely to take effect until after 2020, when the airport is slated to build another east-west runway, Frame said.

Aviation officials will present more data on the program at another meeting Feb. 22, Frame said. A second round of the Fly Quiet program could be approved as soon as the next meeting of the full commission, which is scheduled for March 10.