O'Hare night runway plan to end on Christmas, despite pleas

- City aviation officials said Wednesday that O’Hare Airport will end a six-month test of a new night runway rotation plan on Christmas morning, as originally scheduled, despite pleas by Schiller Park and Harwood Heights to extend it, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.

Mayors of both suburban towns east of the airport said the temporary plan to better distribute night jet noise has lessened the heavy overnight air traffic their communities shouldered after a dramatic change in O’Hare flight plans in 2013.

As a result, they said, they would like to see it continue while test results are being analyzed. The plan, launched July 6, rotates night runways every week, on a 12-week schedule, and alternates between diagonal “cross wind” runways and parallel “east-west” runways.

“Schiller Park got some relief from this and I hate to see it end,” Schiller Park Mayor Barbara Piltaver told fellow members of the Ad Hoc Fly Quiet committee of the O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission.

The plan has reduced the night burden on Schiller Park, Harwood Heights and portions of Chicago to the east of O’Hare, as well as Bensenville and Wood Dale to the west. All are affected by O’Hare’s growing stable of east-west parallel runways. However, other suburbs, like Des Plaines, have been howling about the plan’s increased night use of diagonal runways.

Aaron Frame, of the Chicago Department of Aviation, said “chances are” running the test longer than the six months planned would trigger an environmental analysis that could last anywhere from months to a year. He cited a July 1, 2016, letter from the Federal Aviation Administration stating that “continuing the rotation plan beyond the test would be subject to future environmental review.”

FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro told the Sun-Times on Wednesday that the FAA “would consider” any city request for an extension but could not speculate on what its response would be.

Even so, Frame said the Aviation Department will end the test early Christmas morning, as planned, take the month of January to analyze the results, and then present its findings to the the Fly Quiet Committee and the Noise Commission for discussion and possible tweaking, approval or rejection.

Karen Robles of Schaumburg, a community affected by heavier night use of a diagonal runway due for demolition in 2018, favored that idea. She said there are some “tweaks many of us would like to evaluate” after the test ends and its results are thoroughly analyzed.

Mayor Craig Johnson of Elk Grove Village said later he also favors ending the plan on schedule, going back to pre-rotation night flights temporarily, and then coming up with a new six-month plan that uses the diagonal runway aimed at his village and Schaumburg less frequently.

Currently, Johnson said, Elk Grove Village carries a “disproportionate share” of night traffic and is affected in nine out of 12 weeks in the rotation.

“You shouldn’t have nine out of 12 weeks, flights going over some communities,” Johnson said.

Wednesday’s discussion indicated the Chicago area could see many changes in night flights as officials wrestle with how to proceed. But in addition, even daytime flight paths could well change again in 2019, after a diagonal runway closes; in 2020, after a new east-west parallel runway opens in the north airfield; and in 2021, when an existing parallel runway in the north airfield is due to be lengthened.

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