New runway to increase area jet noise


Plans to open a sixth east-west runway in a few years at O’Hare Airport will result in the 45th Ward being the most affected ward in the city in terms of jet noise, according to Fair Allocation in Runways Coalition member John Kane.

Kane was the guest speaker at the June 29 meeting at the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association. "When I look at the map of flight paths, five of the six flight paths affect the ward, assuming the sixth runway is built," he said. "If that sixth runway gets built, it’s going to bring more air traffic to the most northern part of the ward."

Kane said that the 41st Ward, where O’Hare is located, is affected by three of the six flight paths. He said that planes using the sixth east-west runway will fly between Devon Avenue and Granville Avenue and shift further south as they get closer to O’Hare, affecting the neighborhood around Saint Tarcissus Church, 6020 W. Ardmore Ave.

The coalition has been working with U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (D-5) to stop federal funding of the sixth runway, but his efforts in Congress have been blocked in part because the Republican majority in Congress is siding with the airline industry, Kane said.

The O’Hare Modernization Project has resulted in a change from the primarily using diagonal runways to east-west runways, and as a result planes are flying lower and in a tighter, more congested flight path in order to save fuel and to allow for more landings in a shorter time period, Kane said. "It’s like every 30 seconds you hear the planes over your home," he said. "It’s a train of planes."

One resident said that there are periods where the number of planes over his home "seems a little less" but that there are then "some days it seems like one right after another."

Kane said that the coalition is hearing similar reports about neighborhoods getting a short reprieve on the noise problem and that that could be the result of more careful planning of runway use due to the high number of complaints being made to the city and increased pressure on elected officials to resolve the issue.

There were 10,961 noise complaints in April of 2014 and 459,020 complaints in April of this year, Kane said. "We’re looking at five million this year," he said.

As part of a 6-month test, O’Hare will begin rotating the use of runways for overnight passenger flights this summer in order to spread out the noise, but Jefferson Park may not experience a significant change because cargo flights are exempted from the program, Kane said. Cargo planes usually use the runway that runs parallel to Lawrence Avenue, he said.

Coalition members recognize the importance of O’Hare expansion in terms of creating jobs, spurring economic development near the airport and increasing revenue for the city, Kane said. "It’s a huge economic opportunity for the city and the unions," he said.

However, the effort to "super size" O’Hare means that more pressure is needed on city and federal officials to address the noise and other environmental issues related to the airport, Kane said. There are between 800,000 and 850,000 flights a year at O’Hare, and the city hopes to eventually increase that to 1.5 million, as a second cargo facility is being built on the north end of the airport, he said.

Kane said that all Northwest Side and North Side aldermen have submitted letters of support for FAIR, although the letter from Alderman John Arena (45th) did not constitute an endorsement of the group’s activities. Kane said that coalition officials felt that Arena qualified his support on some of the coalition’s goals.

"We support the vast majority of Fair’s positions," Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh said later. Brugh said that Arena "is not going to sign 100 percent" in support of a platform for any issue unless he agrees with all of it.

Some of the coalition’s positions are "not productive to negotiating" solutions to the noise problems because they involve an issue decided years ago, Brugh said. "We have to find some way to live with this thing," he said.

Arena is the only alderman who serves on the O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission, which is an inter-governmental agency that oversees the noise issue around the airport. The commission has representatives of each Northwest Side ward and several suburbs.

Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st) has asked that he be appointed to the commission in place of the ward’s current representative, Catherine Dunlap, but Mayor Rahm Emanuel has declined to do so.

The FAIR Coalition has been critical of the commission’s handling of the noise issue. The coalition has about 3,000 members, and it has been endorsed by many community organizations, including the Jefferson Park association.

The next association meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 27, at the First Congregational Church of Jefferson Park, 5320 W. Giddings St.