Friday, October 31, 2014

Aviation chief: Chicago O'Hare International (KORD) noise problems won't go away

Aldermen pressing for a firm commitment from the city to reduce noise from jets at O'Hare International Airport were told Friday by the outgoing aviation commissioner that "airplanes do create noise."

Regarding the record number of O'Hare noise complaints received from Chicago and suburban residents over the past year, Chicago Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino said: "I can't say that information (on noise complaints) is going to change the result of anything. I can't say to you that we are going to stop flying."

During hearing on the Department of Aviation's 2015 budget, Andolino, who is set to leave her post soon, offered no promises of noise abatement. Instead she stressed the economic importance to the region of the almost $10 billion O'Hare expansion project, and she pointed out that airplane noise is a national issue.

Flight patterns at O'Hare shifted to mostly easterly and westerly flows in October 2013 when a second new runway opened. The change redirected jet noise, hitting communities east and west of the airport with more noise while generally reducing the impact north and south of the airfield.

Andolino rejected a proposal from Ald. Margaret Laurino, 39th, that the city keep O'Hare's four diagonal runways open to help spread out the noise from takeoffs and landings.

"The process doesn't allow for that," Andolino said, referring to a state law that limits O'Hare to eight total runways.

Under the O'Hare Modernization Program, two diagonals will remain and they will be used sparingly, primarily when strong crosswinds make the planned six east-west runways unusable, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Andolino said the city has asked the FAA to expedite a national review of a rule that determines homeowners' eligibility for government-funded residential soundproofing based on 24-hour jet noise averages.

The FAA study, which could lead to a lower noise threshold being established, is expected to take several more years.

The FAA's NextGen air-traffic modernization program is aimed primarily at improving safety and increasing capacity for more flights, Andolino said, but NextGen will also help reduce noise.

"Technology is our friend," she told aldermen.

Amid the noise-related questions, the overall tone of the hearing was mostly a love fest praising Andolino, who has been aviation commissioner since 2009 and was director of O'Hare expansion starting in 2003.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said earlier that Andolino would step down in October, but she has remained on the job and hasn't indicated when her last day would be.

Emanuel asked former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to lead a nationwide search for Andolino's replacement.

At Friday's hearing, Ald. Mary O'Connor, 41st, renewed her call for City Council hearings on the noise impact of O'Hare's expansion. O'Connor and Laurino first requested the hearings almost a year ago.

"The parallel runways have greatly diminished the quality of life on the Far Northwest Side," O'Connor said. "This is the new reality."

Andolino told aldermen that "unfortunately, we don't always have the answers that some community groups would like to see."

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