O'Hare night flight rotation plan divides suburbs

  • Suburbs are taking different paths when it comes to changes to overnight flight patterns at O'Hare that some fear will increase jet noise.

    Suburbs are taking different paths when it comes to changes to overnight flight patterns at O'Hare that some fear will increase jet noise. Daily Herald File Photo

Updated 3/11/2016 5:45 PM

Sharing is great in theory, but not when it comes to spreading the pain of jets thundering overhead in the wee hours, several suburban leaders argued Friday at a volatile O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission meeting.

The dissension threw a wrench in plans to test a weekly flight rotation overnight, but that doesn't mean that the rotation idea won't fly, Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans said.


The city had hoped to present the Federal Aviation Administration with an overwhelming consensus supporting both the rotation plan and alterations to flight paths overnight that would give relief to towns such as Bensenville and Wood Dale suffering from jet noise.

But fears from suburbs including Des Plaines, Rosemont and Palatine that the changes would keep their residents awake prevented a supermajority vote from the 44 city and suburban members of the commission present.

"My take-away is we need more discussion and more time," Evans said. "We would very much like to have a consensus, but it's utterly predictable that some communities having additional noise would object. But we believe there is an unfair burden placed on a very few communities that should be addressed."

Officials indicated that the city would consult with the FAA about the rotation plan and try again at a May meeting. The FAA has to review and consent to any major changes to overnight flight operations.

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Among several proposals considered by the noise commission Friday was a six-month test of rotating flights weekly between 11 p.m. and approximately 5 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. on one arrival and one departure runway with the goal of evenly distributing jet noise across the city and suburbs.

"Under the current situation we're getting a minimal amount of flights," Des Plaines Ward 6 Alderman Malcolm Chester said. The city's latest plan would put his constituents back in the noise zone and "it's difficult to vote 'yes,' to put planes back over their heads."

Some towns "have received a lot of relief at the expense of others by the redesign and don't want any noise to come over their communities," Bensenville Mayor Frank Soto said. "It's not a fair and balanced approach. It's the not-in-my-back-yard argument."

The city had intended to try the runway rotation plan starting in June or July and get feedback from residents and the FAA. That timetable could still work, Evans indicated.


"If we hustle and put some meat on the bones, we will still come back to the ONCC as planned in May with more specifics. We'll have to do some soul-searching at that point," she said.

More than six runways would be in rotation for arrivals and departures including one diagonal runway scheduled to be retired in 2020. Runways on the far north and south of the airfield won't be used because they close overnight.

O'Hare switched to a new predominantly east/west flow in fall 2013, which caused outrage in communities getting unexpected jet din. At the same time, though, the change gave relief to neighborhoods in towns such as Des Plaines.

Noise commission Chairwoman and Mount Prospect Mayor Arlene Juracek stressed that the rotation and other proposals would be an interim solution. By 2020, Chicago expects to finish building a sixth runway on the north side of the airfield that's being touted as an equalizer to more evenly distribute flights.

In the meantime "it's a very emotional issue," she said. "For the good of mankind, you've got to step back and look at the larger area and see what's good for the community as a whole."

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