O’Hare panel to vote on plan to rotate runways


The O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission will vote on May 6 on a revised proposal by the city Department of Aviation for a 6-month test "Fly Quiet" runway rotation plan that would distribute flights at night through the use of both parallel and diagonal runways at O’Hare International Airport.

The revised nighttime rotation plan calls for 12 one-week periods that would feature six parallel and diagonal configurations and six east-flow and six west-flow configurations. The current "Fly Quiet" program is a voluntary program that 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 commission is looking for a two-thirds majority vote to pass the "Fly Quiet II" plan, in order to submit it to the Federal Aviation Administration for implementation by June or July. The FAA has to approve the proposal.

The plan aims to avoid having consecutive affects on communities and to provide updates on the program on a Web site. The site will provide a summary of the test plan, a weekly rotation schedule, runway use updates and a community survey, according to the aviation department.

"We’ve been getting some good consensus among our members, and we are trying to approve the plan," Mount Prospect Mayor Arlene Juracek, who is the commission chairwoman, said. "I’m hoping that we can move forward with this test plan. We have a letter of support from the Suburban O’Hare Commission and from FAIR, which is supporting the use of diagonal runways to spread out the noise."

FAIR is the Fair Allocation in Runways Coalition, a group of residents that was formed after O’Hare switched to using east-west runways almost entirely as part of an airport improvement plan. The change resulted in a large increase in jet noise in areas east and west of the airport.

In the letter from the suburban commission, representatives of the towns of Addison, Bensenville, DuPage County, Elk Grove Village, Elk Grove Township, Hanover Park, Itasca, Roselle, Wood Dale and Schiller Park expressed support for the proposal.

"SOC believes that the RRP (Runway Rotation Plan) will reduce overall aircraft noise for the region as well as minimize nighttime noise impacts for individual communities," the letter says. "Overall, we believe that the communities near O’Hare share in the benefits of the airport and likewise should share in the impacts of the airport. Clearly, the RRP is a fairer and equitable solution for sharing overnight aircraft noise impacts across the region than the current Fly Quiet plan. The suburban commission is encouraging experts to continue to utilize actual aircraft data on a monthly basis to analyze the impact of night aircraft noise."

"It was a lot of hard work between the city, the commission and the community to get to this point," Juracek said. "We have a great proposal here, and some may not like it, but this has gone a long way from when we first started. I think it’s a good distribution, a fair distribution to coin a phrase."

The plan features 10 arrival and departure configurations with back-up plans to spread out noise over 12 weeks. The air traffic would alternate between the use of diagonal runways one week and east-west runways the next.

At the commission’s Technical Committee meeting on April 19, the city outlined the criteria for the test plan. The plan would use one runway for arrivals and one for departures or a mixed-use runway. The east-west runways would be alternated to minimize the potential for consecutive use except in weather conditions that make their use necessary and reduce the use of Runway 10/Left 28 Right by assigning it for departing airplanes that require additional runway length. In addition, Runway 14 Right/32 Left, a diagonal runway, will be used until its scheduled closing.

"We still have a little bit of outreach to do because communities like Palatine or Schaumburg feel that they will be impacted, but I feel confident that the changes are clear and we can move forward," Juracek said. "The whole point of the effort is to get everyone to the table. This is not the second best solution, but something that has been in the works for a while."

"Some people are concerned, sure, but you can’t look at the direction of the runway and determine noise, you have to look at the direction of the flight once the plane takes off," Juracek said.

The configurations will be used based on historical wind data. One week Runway 10 Left 28 Right would be used for arrivals and departures as a primary use, the next week diagonal Runway 14 Right 32 Left would be used for arrivals and departures. Runway 27 Left would be used for arrivals and Runway 10 Center would be used for departures the third week, and Runway 14 Right would be used for departures and diagonal Runway 4 Right would be used for arrivals the fourth week.

Helen Rosenberg, a member of the Fair Allocation in Runways Coalition, said that the group supports the plan but that its members have reservations about the diagonal runways.

"We are excited that they have listened and came up with some sort of an answer so people can get some sleep," Rosenberg said. "The diagonals are included, but what happens when they will be closed in 2 years? This is a resident-driven direct response from the officials about the noise crisis at the airport."

FAIR said in a letter it sent to the O’Hare noise commission that it supports the concept of the nighttime rotation test plan.

"FAIR still contends that a true balance of overnight operations is only achievable if all the runways including both 14/32 diagonals are a part of the permanent Fly Quiet rotation," the letter states.

The group said that three of the four diagonal configurations depend on the use of 14 Right and 32 Left, which means that five of six weeks of diagonal rotations depend on those runways.

"The heavy reliance of 14R/32L in this rotation plan clearly demonstrates its viability not only in the interim, but as a permanent tool for noise mitigation and yet it is slated for closure during the later part of 9C/27 C construction," the letter states.

Alderman John Arena (45th), who is a member of the ad hoc committee and the technical committee of the commission, said that the test plan means that the Northwest Side would be spared from nighttime noise for five of the 12 weeks.

"This will reduce noise on the Northwest Side, and it will use the diagonals and the east and west flow until the new runway is built in 2019," Arena said. "I think some of the suburban folks balked at this and said that the city is just dumping the noise onto them, but I think that we’ve reached some sort of a compromise that will spread out noise.

"These are landing aircraft, so nothing is set in stone. There are no absolutes in this, but I think we are moving forward with a reasonable solution to address noise. We are a democracy, and we need votes from the suburbs to get this passed."

"A lot is going to happen this week, but I think we are very close to reaching consensus on this," Arena said. "I think we are two votes away from this passing. Let’s do the test and see what the results are. If it doesn’t pan out we will go back and talk about maybe different rotations."

A decision on final implementation of the plan would be made next year.