Groups raise concerns over O’hare Traffic Shift


Northwest Side community groups are voicing concern that the opening of a new runway at O’Hare International Airport will cause a significant increase in the number of planes flying over their neighborhoods beginning in October.

The opening on Oct. 17 of new Runway 10 Center/28 Center, which lines up with Wilson Avenue, will cause a shift in the airport’s runway use patterns, according to Federal Aviation Administration Great Lakes Region spokesman Anthony Molinaro.

“That new runway is changing everything, and there will be some increase in traffic in some areas, but we are trying to keep a balanced airport,” Molinaro said. He said that use of the northwest-southeast diagonal runways at the airport will be discontinued and that air traffic at the airport will have a predominantly east-west flow, although the two northeast-southwest diagonal runways will still be used.

Molinaro said that some flight tracks are not a part of the “Fly Quiet” program, including the one that will open in October over Wilson Avenue. The voluntary program encourages pilots and air traffic controllers to use flight tracks that direct planes over forest preserves, highways and commercial and industrial areas to mitigate noise in residential areas.

The Chicago Department of Aviation briefed the O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission about the opening of the new runway in November. The department provided information about the new east-west flow configurations at the airport, the noise contours that were forecast in 2005, the progress of the sound insulation program and what the department will do in terms of community outreach.

The new Wilson runway will be used for 24.5 percent of arrivals during the day and for 1.2 percent of landings at night on 28 Center, and for 11 percent of landings during the day and 7.6 percent of landings at the night on 10 Center. The runway will not be used for departures, according to the FAA.

“When the new runway 9 Center/27 Center is built, the ultimate goal is to have west flow and east flow, and that’s why we are changing the configurations,” Molinaro said. The new runway, which is scheduled to be built by 2020 after a new terminal is opened, will line up with Granville Avenue.

As part of the opening of the new runway, traffic will increase on Runway 9 Right/27 Left, which lines up with Thorndale Avenue. According to the FAA, arrivals will increase to 58.1 percent of total landings on 27 Left at night and to 24.4 percent during the day, depending on the wind direction. The increase will amount to more than 100 flights at night, according to the Sauganash Community Association.

Also beginning in October, Runway 9 Left/27 Right, which lines up with Pratt Avenue and which opened in 2008, will see an increase in daytime arrivals. The runway will see a minimal number of departures.

Runway 9 Left will have 10 percent of arrivals during the day and 6.6 percent of arrivals at night, and Runway 27 Right will have 23.2 percent of arrivals during the day and 3.7 arrivals at night.

The Sauganash Community Association has sent letters to aviation administration officials and elected officials denouncing the change in usage patterns at the airport. The letter states that jet noise created by the changes will have a negative effect on Northwest Side neighborhoods.

Association member Andrew Ginocchio, who is the 39th Ward representative on the O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission, said that he worked with the group to write the letter. Ginocchio is the chairman of the association’s O’Hare Noise Committee.

Ginocchio said that other groups are drafting their own letters.

Ginocchio said that based on his analysis of numbers provided by the city Department of Aviation, flights over Sauganash will increase from an average of 15 landings a day to more than 100, with many at night. He said that the runway which lines up with Thorndale is one of the oldest and shortest runways and that the main runway that lines up with Lawrence Avenue is safer and more modern but that it will rarely be used for night landings from the east.

The FAA documents show that Runway 10 Left/28 Right, which lines up with Lawrence, will not be used for night landings on 28 Right but for 20.1 percent of night landings on 10 Left.

However, 36.9 percent of departures at night and 24 percent of arrivals during the day will happen on 10 Left, and 13 percent of departures during the day and 22.1 percent of departures at night will happen on 28 Right.

Molinaro said that the administration is trying to split up traffic on the north side and the south side of the airport. “Sometimes people look at only the arrivals, but you can’t split them up like that without looking at the departures,” Molinaro said.
Molinaro said that many arrivals, especially night landings, are done so they can be as close to the terminals to eliminate delays.

The letter from the Sauganash association states that the numbers show that the FAA plans to shift 80,000 landings per year that fly over the north and northwest suburbs to fly over the near north suburbs, over the lake and back over the Northwest Side in order to land. Ginocchio said that the shift would add 40 miles of distance and 15 minutes of flying time, using an additional 40 million gallons of jet fuel and costing the airlines more than $120 million a year.

Ginocchio said that many airports use diagonal runways to compensate for wind direction and that the O’Hare plan was based on Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. He said that it is dangerous to use parallel runways for virtually all of the traffic at the airport and that not using diagonal runways would waste money.

Molinaro said that the airport intends to use the remaining diagonal runways and that the parallel runways are designed not to cross and pose safety hazards.

Edgebrook Community Association president Jeff Manuel said in a letter to elected officials that the group opposes the planned changes in runway use. “These changes will adversely impact our community in numerous respects including but not limited to increased noise levels in the early morning and late at night, decreased property values and an overall reduction of quality of life standards,” the letter states.

Spokesmen for Alderman Margaret Laurino (39th) and Alderman Mary O’Connor (41st) said that the aldermen plan to hold public meetings on the issue.

The Sauganash Community Association said that the diagonal runways should be kept open and used to maintain O’Hare’s competitiveness and safety.

“We feel that the main runway and the two brand new runways should be used more than part-time for landings,” association president Renee Bennett said in the letter. “We believe flights should be directed over no-people commercial and park zones as much as possible, and we believe homes in flyover zones where heavy traffic cannot be truly avoided should get home insulation assistance.”

Ginocchio said that the reason for the shift of traffic to the Thorndale runway has to do with the noise insulation program. He said that complaints from other municipalities over noise would cause an uproar and that’s why the majority of night landings will be kept over the city.


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