Neighbors of Chicago's O'Hare airport amp up noise complaints

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 05, 2014 3:23 PM

By Fiona Ortiz

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Retired engineer Ed Phillips lives almost seven miles (11 km) east of O'Hare International Airport, but conversation at his home is often interrupted by the roar of low-flying jets landing at a new runway at one of the world's busiest airports.

Across a broad swathe of northern Chicago, people who never noticed planes before now say their houses shake, they can't sleep and their property values have dropped.

"It's steadily gotten worse," said Phillips. "In the summer there were a number of nights where, in my opinion, it was unacceptable to expect people to have to put up with that."

The explosion of complaints over changed O'Hare flight patterns, and the new runway in particular, has increased pressure on the city to review noise impact monitoring.

On a recent blustery day, Phillips attended a workshop where he learned to request public data on noise from flights at O'Hare, which has more takeoffs and landings than any other airport in the world except Atlanta's.

He and other activists aim to generate analysis showing official data understates noise from low-elevation planes landing at a runway that began operating in October 2013 as part of a plan to increase O'Hare's capacity and reduce delays.

The O'Hare noise hotline logged 170,000 complaints in the first nine months of 2014, five times more than in all of 2013. Even stripping out the frequent callers, complaints have risen sharply since the new runway began operating, according to an inter-governmental agency that tracks noise at O'Hare.

Donald Walsh, a safety consultant who led the workshop Phillips attended and who also lives east of O'Hare, says flights over his home jumped from 50 to 300 a day this year.

"It's terrible. It's pretty hard to sell a house when you have 747's flying over and you can't talk," he said.

Noise complaints are common around airports worldwide, but O'Hare may be in a class of its own, with 2,400 takeoffs and landings a day in a metropolitan area of 10 million people, according to Airports Council International.

O'Hare is the No. 5 world airport in terms of passengers and also a major cargo hub, with a $30 billion annual impact on the local economy, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation.

U.S. Representative Mike Quigley, who represents the district that includes O'Hare, has joined the anti-noise battle.

Quigley has demanded an older runway that is scheduled to close be kept open to maintain approaches to the airport from different directions.

Phillips and Walsh are active with a coalition called the FAiR Allocation in Runways group, which wants changes including mandatory "fly quiet" rules that would force pilots to fly over less populated areas at night, more sensitive noise monitoring and a redistribution of traffic on the airport's multiple runways.

The City of Chicago, which runs the airport, has responded to complaints and plans to install more noise monitors, said Karen Pride, spokesman for the Chicago Department of Aviation.

Pride said the department has supported requests to have the Federal Aviation Administration - which regulates civil aviation - review noise impact models. She said the city will spend $120 million in coming years to help sound-insulate 4,700 residences.

The anti-noise movement has gained traction in the run-up to municipal elections in February, turning a FAiR meeting this week into a campaign stop for three mayoral candidates.

"No one anywhere in the city of Chicago should be a prisoner in their own home who can't enjoy their back yard," said mayoral candidate and County Commissioner Chuy Garcia, to applause from the 200 people at the meeting.

(Edited by David Bailey and Doina Chiacu)