Monday, June 09, 2014

Federal Aviation Administration must hold hearing — in the right place

Nine years ago, the Federal Aviation Administration held three public hearings to gather views on a new runway plan for O’Hare Airport, but it held no hearings where it mattered most — towns about to get hit with greater jet noise.

But it is not too late.

New runways have been built and others are coming by 2020, meaning more planes will be flying in and out of O’Hare, but flight patterns can always be changed. The FAA and Chicago have an obligation, having fallen short in 2005, to hold a hearing on the current state of airport noise.

Big towns need big airports, and big airports make big noise. People will always be unhappy. But the Fair Allocation in Runways coalition has offered suggestions for minimizing the impact of noise — or spreading the pain — that deserve consideration:

◆ Alternate the use of runways and flight paths from night to night. Right now, for example, runway 27L (parallel to Thorndale Avenue) gets all night arrivals whenever there is a west wind, which is about 70 percent of the time. This remedy, though, begs another question: Is spreading the pain really a better way to go?

◆ Require plans to make steeper ascents and declines so the noise extends out as little as possible. This, though, would increase airline fuel costs.

◆ Give a noise monitor to all homeowners who request one, so that they can measure for themselves whether their noise is at soundproofing levels.

U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, as reported by Rosalind Rossi of the Sun-Times on Monday, is sending a letter to the FAA asking why the community-input process has been inadequate. The 2005 public hearings probably should have been held closer to the communities likely to get hit hardest, Quigley argues. If not, he says, the outreach beforehand — to make sure the folks affected most showed up — should have been better. And when the hearings were poorly attended, Quigley says, the FAA should have asked why.

In the meantime, we see no reason the FAA can’t hold another public hearing — in the right place — right now.

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