‘Fly Quiet’ committee studying O’Hare changes


Members of the O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission’s Ad Hoc Fly Quiet Committee could vote on a series of recommendations at its Jan. 25 meeting to begin the process of modifying the "Fly Quiet" nighttime noise abatement program.

"We could possibly start voting on the options that were laid out before us at the Jan. 25 meeting, or if the members need more information, then some time in February," committee chairman Joseph Annunzio said. "The big idea is to use all the runways to rotate the traffic so that not only one is used all the time in order to spread the noise."

"It is my hope that the Ad Hoc Fly Quiet Committee can reach a consensus on modifications to the ‘Fly Quiet’ program that can be implemented in a relatively short time frame to provide the most immediate relief to residents," Annunzio said. "In order to accomplish those goals, recommendations must also be considered feasible to the Federal Aviation Administration and to the pilots."

Modifications to the program must take into account changes that have occurred at O’Hare International Airport during the O’Hare Modernization Program and the conditions that exist prior to full program build-out, and must meet safety and efficiency requirements.

Recommendations will be presented to the O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission for a vote. A two-thirds majority of commission members must approve the options. The Chicago Department of Aviation will then submit the plan to the Federal Aviation Administration for review.

"We’ve got three options to modify the ‘Fly Quiet’ program, but the rotation aspect is the one that we are really looking at," Annunzio said. "We need to get people some relief so that they are not constantly bombarded by airplane noise."

At the ad hoc committee meeting on Dec. 14, members heard a presentation by JDA, a consultant for the commission, which gave a series of possible recommendations on how to reduce jet noise.

The recommendations included adding a second departure runway during "Fly Quiet" hours and using one diagonal runway, avoiding early termination of program departure procedures, assessing departure flight paths from new runways and preferred departure headings for noise abatement, reviewing existing noise headings to determine if they are achieving the goal of directing flights to less populated areas, and evenly distributing take-offs.

The consultants recommended examining navigation procedures to determine how they can be better implemented to provide additional noise reduction as well as implementing a new runway rotation plan to distribute traffic over all communities affected by noise.

The committee will focus its discussion on using existing and potential new performance-based navigation procedures and how they can be better implemented, consideration of having "Fly Quiet" programs in the evening, overnight and morning or redefining the program and making a recommendation regarding the frequency of rotation, as well as a possible rotation schedule. City Department of Aviation consultants Landrum & Brown provided background and explanation on the initiatives and took questions from committee members.

The three "Fly Quiet" program options include using two departure runways during evening hours, rotating the runways to spread out noise overnight and using two arrival runways during the morning hours.

The runways would be rotated every period determined by the commission and would aim to not impact the same communities in a row and to coordinate runway closings with maintenance and inspection schedules to reduce unexpected changes.

Alternative runways may need to be used to allow for construction, snow removal, runway maintenance, inspection and aircraft needs.

The north and south control towers are closed from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., and they are not included in the "Fly Quiet" program. Any modifications would not require more controllers, controller hours or increased workload for controllers.

Diagonal runway 14 Left and 32 Right was closed on Aug. 20 and the aviation department is working on decommissioning the runway. A new runway 9 Center/27 Center is scheduled to open in 2020, which requires the closure of the second diagonal runway 14 Right/32 Left.

One recommendation that several committee members supported was the performance-based departure procedures or heading modifications that would redirect departures over less populated areas, which could affect far fewer people with jet noise.

For example, a runway that lines up with Lawrence Avenue currently affects about 72,739 people during departures. Under a new modification that would require a sharp turn to the southeast, it would affect about 46,090 people.

"This effort is unprecedented because the ONCC is working with other groups and the City of Chicago to come up with some sort of a program," Annunzio said. "Are we going to stop the noise? Of course not, but I believe that the FAA will go ahead with something that is feasible, something that the aircrafts can do."

"This is a great opportunity for the members of ONCC," Annunzio said. "We are being given a role in determining airport policy and we should not take that lightly.

"We will examine all of the options and choose the ones that can be implemented in the timeliest manner. The airport has changed since the "Fly Quiet" program was developed 20 years ago. It is appropriate that we are reviewing it now so that it takes into account current conditions."

At the same meeting, the Fair Allocation in Runways Coalition presented its recommendations for the "Fly Quiet" program and said that the program cannot exist without the use of diagonal runways. The group’s recommendations take into account the fact that communities east and west of the airport are subject to a constant stream of flights from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

"The city’s proposals still place overnight flights disproportionately on the same areas that have already suffered all day, so even with rotation, there will be weeks when people have planes 24/7," Al Rapp of the FAIR coalition said in a statement. "That’s not acceptable now and it isn’t acceptable in the future. Hourly demand determines which and how many runways the city uses, and it’s clear that keeping and using the diagonals doesn’t conflict with today’s demand and can provide substantial relief overnight to people who don’t get any break during the day."

"The mayor and CDA have chosen and still choose to put flights at night over the very same people who get little or no relief during the day, even in their own recommended changes to this program," Colleen Mulcrone of the FAIR coalition said. "Providing real relief to citizens first requires the most compatible land use over the least populated areas.

"That can only happen with diagonal runways the city wants to eliminate, even though they now have a law permitting them to remain. Mayor Emanuel is still choosing a bad plan over helping people."