Monday, May 12, 2014

New path into Chicago Midway International Airport (KMDW) doesn't fly for South, SW Side areas

Folks in Bridgeport have been looking to the skies in recent weeks, wondering why they are suddenly hearing hundreds of planes some days headed into Midway Airport about 7 miles away.

“In 30 years, I’ve not heard noise like we are hearing now,’’ said Kathy Krugler, 64, of Bridgeport. “It’s unbelievable.’’

Turns out, since Feb. 6, a new flight path into Midway’s Runway 22L has been sending a barrage of planes over a new swath of South Side and Southwest Side neighborhoods.

That includes portions of the Bridgeport, Armour Square and Douglas neighborhoods and perhaps parts of McKinley Park, according to estimates pieced together by the Chicago Sun-Times from Federal Aviation Administration maps.

Of all the wards, the 11th — home to once clout-heavy Bridgeport — has the largest land mass affected by the flight changes, maps indicate.

When Runway 22L is used for arrivals — which is when winds are blowing from the south or southwest —  it takes in 300 to 400 flights a day, a controller at Midway Air Traffic Control said. Planes landing on runway 22L or a parallel one with a similar flight path were used 27 percent of the time in March, or roughly one out of every four days.

Bridgeport resident Peggy Weyer said she’s seen planes overhead before, but nothing like the recent onslaught — virtually every few minutes at times — and never this low.

She’s even suddenly noticed planes with their lights on and wheels down.

“If I can read what’s on the plane and know what type of plane it is, it’s low,’’ Weyer said.

But FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro said the new approach does not bring planes into Midway at lower altitudes — although it does bring them in over different areas.

From just west of the lakeshore to the Lake Michigan shoreline, planes generally are approaching at an altitude of 2,500 to 1,500 feet, Molinaro said.

As a comparison, the Willis Tower is 1,450 feet high. That means by the time planes reach Bridgeport — about a mile west of the lakeshore — they would be flying at around the height of the Willis Tower.

The new Midway approach is “permanent,’’ Molinaro said, and allows a more direct route into Midway rather than the fish hook approach used previously.

Following I-55 and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, the route flies over fewer residences and a smaller area, saving fuel and time for airlines and travelers, Molinaro said. New flight technology made it possible, he said.

“This is part of an initiative to improve approaches so they save time for travelers, reduce emissions in the air and fly over less populated areas,’’ Molinaro said by email.

The city worked with the Midway Noise Abatement Commission to hold public meetings about the changes last spring, Molinaro said, and even soundproofed some homes before it was launched.

A spokeswoman at the Chicago Department of Aviation was unable to answer questions last week about Midway. But Krugler and Weyer say they didn’t know about the changes until they were hit in the face with them. That’s becoming a familiar pattern, said Jac Charlier of the Fair Allocation in Runways Coalition, which is pushing for more even usage of O’Hare runways.

Some Northwest Side and suburban residents were taken by surprise by two O’Hare flight pattern changes since October of 2013, Charlier said. Some Chicagoans who had lived in peace for years 10 to 12 miles from O’Hare were suddenly hit with jet noise, he said.

“The best two words are, ‘Buyer beware,’ ’’ Charlier said. “This could happen to you. . . . When you have lack of community input, this is what happens.’’

Ald. James Balcer (11th) said he couldn’t remember if he was invited to the public meetings about the Runway 22L flight path changes, but he did get noise complaints afterwards.

He said he called Chicago Department of Aviation Commission Rosemarie Andolino about the complaints, and he hopes to have a meeting with the aviation department following even more complaints recently.

About 300 to 400 planes a day, when the runway is used, is “a lot of planes,’’ Balcer said, although he did not remember hearing that number before.

The most recent Chicago Aviation Department report on Midway indicates first-quarter noise complaints through March 31 out of Chicago more than doubled between 2013 and 2014, rising from 60 to 140.

In addition, the percent of complaints about “low-flying” Midway planes  — from both city and suburban residents — jumped from 38 percent to 56 percent during that time.

Other changes are ahead at Midway — but they’ll be temporary. The first of four 56-hour overnight-only closures of another runway — 13C/31C — will start at 10 p.m. Monday and run until 6 a.m. Thursday.

The concrete runway is being replaced with asphalt and new lighting is being installed amid work that should end around Aug. 18.

Midway Director of Operations Costas Simos said the airport will check with airlines daily to ensure that other runways can be used overnight for the 10 or 11 flights that normally operate during those overnight hours.

The work is approved for up to $40 million but officials are estimating costs currently at $27 million, Simos said.