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O’Hare noise complaints fly even higher in March

Noise complaints have increased steadily since runway reconfiguratiO'Hare Airport October. | Getty Images

Noise complaints have increased steadily since a runway reconfiguration at O'Hare Airport in October. | Getty Images

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Updated: June 4, 2014 6:13AM



O’Hare International Airport noise complaints hit yet another record high in March as already noise-ravaged Bensenville residents braced for even more planes over their Northwest suburb in the months ahead.

Federal Aviation Administration officials revealed Friday that the flight paths at O’Hare were changed on April 15 for the second time in six months, this time based on a nationwide National Transportation Safety Board recommendation.

The move explained the angry gaggle of Bensenville residents who complained Friday at an O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission hearing that they were being bombarded with a second jump in flight noise since O’Hare dramatically shifted its flight patterns in October. Two residents demanded to be “relocated” as a result.

“Come over Saturday when I want to sit with my family,” Bensenville resident Kinga Biernat told commission members Friday. “You can enter the hell we have to live with.’’

In October, the nation’s second-busiest airport switched from using mostly diagonal runways to mostly parallel ones in an attempt to decrease delays and increase capacity. As a result, 70 percent of traffic now moves from east-to-west, with many arrivals taking a new path over the city.

Residents of Sauganash, Indian Woods and North Park even won property tax appeals recently after arguing the newfound steady stream of arriving O’Hare planes was destroying the value of their Northwest Side homes, the Chicago Sun-Times reported exclusively last month.

Since October, complaints to the O’Hare Noise Hotline have increased in four of five months with records.

Between February and March, the most recent data showed Friday, city and suburban noise complaints combined broke a record for the second month in a row, hitting 11,145. In addition, the number of Chicagoans with beefs jumped 158 percent, to 613.

In Bensenville, new takeoffs headed west out of O’Hare have caused the problem. Bensenville beefs have soared from one in March 2013, before the October runway changes, to 332 in March 2014.

After the October switch, Biernat said, she noticed more jet noise over her Bensenville home, but more recently — after the April 15 change — the noise has reached “nightmare” levels.

The planes now are not only noisy, they are much more frequent, said Biernat, 30. They rumble from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m., coming every one to two minutes and robbing the family of the ability to have a normal conversation or solid sleep, she said.

Her daughter is dozing off at school and the family is “all exhausted,’’ said Biernat, a native of Poland. The family does not want to live like “animals” in a “cage,” trapped in their house to avoid extreme noise, she said.

“Whoever agreed to build that runway was very successful in ruining our lives and destroying our dream of leading a normal, quiet suburban lifestyle,’’ said Biernat. “I demand [you] relocate us as soon as possible.’’

Another Bensenville resident — as well as a Schiller Park woman — also chimed in that they wanted to be “relocated” to escape elevated jet noise.

The noise level has become so disturbing, “I ask [you] to relocate me so I don’t land in a mental hospital,’’ Chester Gorniak, 64, of Bensenville, told the commission.

The April 15 runway change followed a National Transportation Safety Board recommendation that U.S. airports modify rules for air traffic controllers to ensure the safe separation of aircraft if planes must abort a landing.

The recommendation was triggered by five incidents since 2006 in which commercial jets came “within hazardous proximity” of other aircraft during intersecting arrivals or departures -- none of them involving O’Hare, FAA officials say.

O’Hare responded April 15 with a plan it says will be in place for at least three to six months.

It is diverting most daytime departures from the second-busiest departure runway, called 32L, to either 28R or 22L. Runway 28R was O’Hare’s busiest departure runway as of March. The April change means it has gotten even busier and is sending even more takeoffs over Bensenville. The new 22L departures should be flying over Franklin Park.

More than 300 daytime flights, on average, took off from 32L in each of the four months ending in March, but FAA officials Friday could not say how many of them are now winding up on 28R or 22L. But, they said, they will try to divide the diversions evenly between the two new runway destinations and avoid some diversions all together.

In addition, most takeoffs that previously departed on Runway 4L are being sent instead to either Runway 9R, which affects Rosemont and Chicago’s 41st Ward, or 10L, which affects Schiller Park and the 41st ward.
FAA officials say they hope to find a way to decrease the diversions in the coming months, perhaps by spreading out the departure times of potentially problematic flights.

Bensenville Mayor Frank Soto Friday said the FAA’s new examination of O’Hare runway patterns also should include determining if flights can ascend and descend more steeply to reduce noise experienced on the ground. He also questioned whether the point at which departing flights “bank” and turn in a different direction could be changed in a way that would mitigate noise.

The moves may cost airlines more in fuel consumption, Soto said, but “that’s part of the cost of doing business in a metropolitan airport that’s surrounded by residential communities.’’

Complaints to the Bensenville Village Hall have increased since the April 15 change, Soto said, and Bensenville is looking for long-term solutions. Soto even met in March with leaders of other jet-noise-ravaged cities to share noise-mitigtion strategies.

“We want to address not just this uptick [in jet noise] but future upticks,’’ Soto said.

Also Friday, the Bensenville representation on the noise commission, Village Trustee JoEllen Ridder,publicly asked the commission and the FAA to meet with Bensenville officials about noise complaints and “the anxiety and stress my residents are dealing with.’’

Email rrossi@suntimes.com
Twitter @rosalindrossi



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