City plans to rotate use of some airport runways


The city Department of Aviation is planning to rotate the use of runways late at night for departures and arrivals at O’Hare International Airport as part of a series of steps to address airplane jet noise, but it will still decommission two diagonal runways despite calls from community groups and legislators to keep them open as options to spread out air traffic.

The department released a plan to address abatement, mitigation, communication, reporting and citizen involvement concerning noise at the airport last week. The department plans to change air traffic by balancing the use of O’Hare’s runways at night in the "Fly Quiet Program," prioritize the building of additional runways to reduce noise in certain neighborhoods and explore steps necessary to provide further sound insulation to residents.

"The solutions released today are the product of months of analysis and collaboration with community groups and aviation experts," aviation department commissioner Ginger Evans said. "We know that airport noise is a challenge for many residents, but we are confident that we can move forward with concrete steps to ensure a higher quality of life for O’Hare’s neighbors, while maximizing the safety and efficiency of the world’s busiest airport. The city takes very seriously the impact of airport noise, but we are required to balance that with the impact on the thousands of people who rely upon O’Hare each day."

The department intends to develop a new rotation concept for the "Fly Quiet Program" that is intended to spread out noise and relieve concentrated noise occurrences in certain communities for nighttime hours for consideration by the O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission, which would need to approve it.

The rotation would be for a number of days or weeks and would use dedicated runways for arrivals and departures to spread out noise. The department will identify possibilities after the closing of a diagonal runway on Aug. 20 and opening of a new runway in October. Some runways would be closed from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. depending on the flow, either west or east.

O’Hare Commission chairwoman Arlene Juracek said that the commission will form an ad hoc committed that will base its work on the aviation department reports.

The department is pushing for completing the construction of runways, one of which is set to open in October this year, so the airfield can be balanced between the north and south runways, and the use of east-west traffic may be balanced from the current 70-30 split to a 60-40 split.

The department also is planning to work with the Federal Aviation Administration to identify additional soundproofing of homes, which could include previously insulated homes within the 70-decibel day-night average sound levels (DNL), as well as other noise-sensitive facilities. The departments have spent more than $600 million on residential sound insulation and more than $351 million on school sound insulation, which includes more than 10,900 homes and 123 schools.

The department wants diagonal Runways 14 Left/32 Right and 14 Right/32 Left to be decommissioned as planned due to safety issues with an intersecting runway configuration, a lack of operational efficiency and increased costs associated with keeping the runways open.

The aviation department opposes retaining the runways because based on their low use by air traffic they can only provide negligible noise benefit to the surrounding communities. They would prevent future airport development that is needed to further support peak hour traffic during inclement weather.

The department said that the diagonal runways create issues with the parallel runway system and that they are not optimal to mitigate noise. "Although the use of these runways would be less than today, operating, maintenance and other costs associated with these runways would continue to increase," according to the department. "Additionally, the location of these runways impedes construction of the remaining elements of the full parallel runway system."

The study also said that parallel runways are a standard in modern airports and that the need for crosswind runways has diminished over time.

"We have put forward a comprehensive effort to reduce noise in our communities and ensure O’Hare remains (a) world-class airport for decades to come," Evans said. "I look forward to continuing this dialogue with concerned citizens and organizations who wish to have a serious discussion about the future of our city’s airports."

Governor Bruce Rauner recently signed into law a bill which will increase the total of allowed runways at O’Hare from eight to 10 without need for state approval and possibly pave way for increasing the number of homes that are eligible for the city’s soundproofing program. The aviation department had cited the runway requirement as the reason why it would need to close the diagonal runways.

U.S Representative Mike Quigley (D-5) and U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-9) have announced a Department of Transportation grant for $6.5 million for noise mitigation measures for residences living within the 65 DNL decibel measure in Park Ridge and Norwood Park.

"We have been calling for increased noise mitigation and are pleased that the federal government is taking steps to provide some relief," the representatives said in a statement. "We will continue working with the CDA and the FAA to help mitigate and distribute the noise while maintaining O’Hare as an economic engine in Chicago and Illinois."

Quigley, Shakowsky and U.S. Representative Tammy Duckworth (D-8) have said that residents living around the airport have been dealing with increased noise issues for years and they have commended Evans for considering reasonable options to address noise issues.

"However, we are not convinced at this time that building new runways, while simultaneously decommissioning the diagonal runways, will help reduce noise in our communities and ensure O’Hare remains a competitive airport. We believe the diagonal runways remain necessary for efficiency, safety and noise abatement," the legislators said in a statement. "Leaving the diagonal runways open would allow us to maintain the most potential options to configure the airport and help distribute the noise burden.

"We trust that CDA wants what’s best for Chicago and O’Hare, and we look forward to a continued dialogue on this issue. We will stress at every opportunity that sensible noise abatement does not preclude a vibrant O’Hare, and that we owe it to our constituents to explore every reasonable option."