Noise complaints soar with new O’hare runway


Aldermen Mary O’Connor (41st) and Margaret Laurino (39th) introduced a resolution to the City Council calling for hearings in response to a sharp increase in jet noise complaints that have been reported since a new east-west runway opened in October at O’Hare International Airport.

The resolution calls for hearings with representatives of the Chicago Department of Aviation, the Federal Aviation Agency and airline operators to discuss the O’Hare Modernization Plan and ways to reduce the effect of jet noise on Northwest Side neighborhoods.

"I certainly recognize and respect the important role that this airport plays in boosting the economy of the entire region, but as your elected representative in the City Council and vice-chair of the Aviation Committee, I have a responsibility to use every available resource when it comes to preserving the quality of life in our communities," O’Connor said in an e-mail to residents.

Since it was announced last year that the opening of the new runway 10 Center/28 Center in October would increase nighttime jet noise over much of the Northwest Side, area groups have expressed concern about the effect it would have on their quality of life.

A group called Fair Allocation in Runways was formed by members of the Forest Glen Community Club, the Edgebrook Community Association, the Hollywood-North Park Community Association, the Sauganash Community Association, the Sauganash Park Community Association and the Sauganash Woods Homeowners Association. The coalition has criticized an 85 percent increase in the number of evening flights over the Northwest Side.

Under the modernization plan, the main runways will be 9R/27L, which lines up with Thorndale Avenue, 10L/28R, which lines up with Lawrence Avenue, and 10C/28C, which lines up with Wilson Avenue.

Laurino said that jet noise has not been a problem in her ward until the runway opened and that she is trying to get aviation officials to attend a hearing to discuss soundproofing homes and to review the 65 Day-Night Noise Level contour.

"This was established 30 to 35 years ago and it might be an outdated way of measuring noise," Laurino said. She said that she worked with U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (D-5) to have a noise-monitoring device installed at North Park Village.

Laurino said that the average noise level increased from 57.1 decibels in October to 58.8 decibels in November. Noise levels in Bensenville increased from 63.5 decibels in October to 65.9 decibels in November.

"People in the 39th Ward did not move next to the airport," Laurino said. "We are 10 miles away from O’Hare. It’s like the airport moved next to them."

Quigley and U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-9) also are to alleviate the noise through action in Congress.

Total noise complaints have increased from 2,124 complaints in September to 3,496 in October and to 4,763 in November, according to the city Department of Aviation.

The number of complaints reported in November are 1,032 in the 41st Ward, 923 in the 45th Ward and 247 in the 39th Ward. A total of 72 percent of noise complaints between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. were made in the city.

Complaints from the suburbs also have increased, particularly in Norridge, which recorded 255 complaints in October and 985 in November. Complaints in Bensenville increased from 51 to 127.

Quigley said that his district includes O’Hare and that complaints will increase more when the weather warms up and residents open their windows.

"There is no doubt that there is a change in the amount of noise," Quigley said. "We understood that there would be changes, but we never expected the changes to be this large."

Quigley said that he understands that the airport modernization project cannot be stopped because the airport is an economic engine for the city and the project has been in the works for years, but he is seeking to secure funding for more sound insulation for homes by reducing the allowable noise level from 65 decibels to 55 decibels.

Quigley also said that he is working to get a more equal distribution of jets over areas near the airport.

Quigley wrote a letter to Department of Aviation commissioner Rosemarie Andolino and U.S. Federal Aviation Agency administrator Michael Huerta in October expressing his concerns about the noise. He said that the 65-decibel noise metric minimizes the most annoying disruptions by averaging them over the year and therefore does not represent the true discomfort experienced by residents.

"The FAA is reviewing that, but it is important to understand that it does not take into consideration the really loud planes," Quigley said. He said that the city department has spent more than $500 million on sound insulation but that more could be done.

"People are upset about this dramatic increase in noise," Quigley said. "I don’t think that my constituents understood the impact of the noise that was going to be."

Huerta wrote that the FAA is reviewing the 65-decibel level to see if changes should be made and that it is conducting a national survey of the public’s annoyance reaction to aircraft noise.

In December Quigley introduced the "Silent Skies Act," a bill which would require the FAA to issue regulations by the end of 2015 requiring all commercial airplanes to meet Stage 4 noise standards, which are significantly lower than those currently in use.

"Chicago’s airports are vital economic engines of our community, but they and the airlines must do everything they can to be good neighbors," Quigley said in a statement. "Introducing newer and quieter engines into airline fleets will make them less disruptive to families who live nearby and keep our vibrant neighborhoods livable."

In 2006 the FAA issued regulations requiring all new commercial aircraft designs to meet Stage 4 noise standards but did not rule on whether airlines would have to phase out older, louder airplanes or retrofit them with quieter engines, Quigley said.

The bill introduced by Quigley would require the FAA to issue regulations to phase in the quieter engines at a rate of 25 percent of an airline’s fleet every 5 years so that all commercial planes meet the quieter standards by 2035.

The bill also encourages research and development of quieter engine technologies through a new grant partnership program. No federal funding currently is dedicated to the development of quieter engines.

Quigley also called for the city to revisit its "Fly Quiet" program for runway use at night. Andolino wrote in response that the airport handles a significant amount of traffic between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. and that the city department does not support limiting the use of the runways.

A 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.