A Cook County commissioner plans to propose a resolution Wednesday calling for a mandatory “fly-quiet” program during overnight hours at O’Hare International Airport to address increasing jet noise from a new runway layout.
O’Hare’s 17-year-old fly-quiet guidelines are voluntary and run from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. daily. They often are the last consideration of pilots, air-traffic controllers and airlines, whose primary focus is on safety, efficiency and passenger comfort, officials said.
Any move to make fly-quiet procedures mandatory would start with the city of Chicago, by conducting a study, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Tony Molinaro said.
The Chicago Department of Aviation declined to comment Tuesday on the matter. City aviation officials have previously dismissed calls for changes that would restrict O’Hare’s flight capacity.
Cook County Commissioner Peter Silvestri, R-Elmwood Park, proposed the mandatory flight restrictions and said he realizes the county doesn’t have jurisdiction over O’Hare. His effort is aimed at facilitating “an effective dialogue’’ between Chicago officials and noise-weary residents of the city’s Northwest Side and nearby suburbs, he said.
“This is not legislation I am proposing. It is mostly symbolic,’’ Silvestri said. “But many elected officials on the Northwest Side support the resolution as a way to say let’s be fair in allocating O’Hare noise so that everybody is on the same footing.”
Silvestri’s move comes as City Council hearings on O’Hare noise requested last month by two Chicago aldermen, Mary O'Connor, 41st, and Margaret Laurino, 39th, haven’t been scheduled yet.
Ald. Michael Zalewski, 23rd, who is chairman of the council’s aviation committee, said Tuesday that he expects to hold the first hearing within the next two weeks. He said it has taken awhile to coordinate the schedules of officials who will testify, including members of the Illinois congressional delegation, experts from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Chicago Department of Aviation, major airlines as well as the public.
Zalewski was careful not to raise expectations of any quick solutions among residents who have suffered more noise, including in the overnight hours, since O’Hare flight patterns were changed last fall.
In reference to Silvestri’s proposal, Zalewski said: “I’m not sure if making fly-quiet absolutely mandatory is doable at this point. The new runways that have opened are designed to bring in planes in certain ways, based on safety and capacity issues. Making fly-quiet mandatory is not something that I think the FAA is willing to do at this point.”
O’Connor, vice chairman of the aviation committee, said Tuesday it’s important for the hearing to be “meaningful and productive.’’
“You want people there to answer the questions and direct us along an avenue of what we have to do next. And not delay it any more,’’ she said.
O’Connor said the issues are complicated by the fact that they require action by the federal government to revise the current noise contour standards to make more homeowners eligible for federal funding to receive noise-abatement insulation, or to require the airlines to retire noisier, older planes on an expedited timetable.
For the time being, residents of the 41st Ward “are just asking for a fair distribution’’ of flights to end the noise saturation over some areas, she said, adding, “I hope we are going in the right direction with these hearings.’’
The opening of a fourth east-west parallel runway at O’Hare last October marked a change in takeoff and landing patterns. The new air-traffic flow is generating more jet noise east and west of the airport and a noise reduction to the north and south of O’Hare.
The Chicago Department of Aviation’s voluntary fly-quiet guidelines for O’Hare’s airline pilots are in effect from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. daily. The guidelines provide operating procedures for using preferred runways and nighttime flight tracks to route planes over the least-populated areas.
Chicago Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino has rejected proposals to expand those guidelines to start at 9 p.m.
Andolino also denied requests from community groups and members of the Illinois congressional delegation to work with the FAA to use more runways late at night as a way to spread jet noise over a wider area but subject individual areas to a net reduction in planes overhead.
Numerous efforts to restrict jet noise by communities near airports have been proposed over the years, but few mandatory programs have been enacted, according to the FAA.
Since 1971, John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Calif., has operated one of the most stringent mandatory fly-quiet programs in the U.S. A curfew on arriving flights is in effect for all commercial flights and for certain large general aviation planes from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Mondays through Saturdays and until 8 a.m. on Sundays, said airport spokeswoman Jenny Wedge. Departures are prohibited after 10 p.m. until 7 a.m. Mondays through Saturdays and until 8 a.m. on Sundays, Wedge said.
Thirty-five percent of the flights at John Wayne are airline operations, while the majority involve private planes, she said.
Meanwhile, O’Hare noise complaints filed with the city reached an all-time high in 2013. Almost 25,000 complaints were made between January and November — more than for any full year on record since Chicago installed noise-monitoring devices in 1996, officials said. December data have not been released.
Silvestri said he is sponsoring the resolution on behalf of the anti-airplane-noise group Fair Allocation in Runways, or FAIR.
“FAIR just wants a dialogue. I think that’s important. I don’t think they are anti-airport,’’ Silvestri said.
Jac Charlier, FAIR co-leader, said the group has twice asked to meet with Mayor Rahm Emanuel to discuss jet noise mitigation, thus far to no avail.
Emanuel said during a ceremony on Oct. 17 when the newest O’Hare runway opened that the concerns of airport neighbors won’t be ignored.
“We’re going to continue to expand the airport and also make sure that the residents around the airport get the type of resources and support they need, the noise abatement and all the other efforts that need to be dealt with,’’ Emanuel said.
“We are very sensitive as a city and our aviation department as to the way we manage our two airports to work with the surrounding communities,’’ the mayor said. “We can always do better and we are going to work at doing it better.”firstname.lastname@example.org