Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Although we have always experienced airplane traffic over our community, it seems that certain areas are experiencing more traffic and that the airplanes appear to be lower and louder than before. Is this the case?
A: Yes. This is a result of two factors. First, the $20 billion federally-funded O’Hare Modernization Plan has increased the footprint of the airport while producing six parallel runway configurations that narrowly constrain traffic directly over Chicagoland’s most densely populated communities. Additionally, the runways that offered the most relief from air traffic noise and pollution (they were built with flight paths in part over industrial areas and forest preserves) were decommissioned and are no longer being used as a part of this plan. Second, the Federal Aviation Administration has mandated the permanent use of RNAV and NextGen, which takes advantage of global positioning systems (GPS) to automatically guide aircraft in and out of the airport at high frequencies, high volumes and very low altitudes in order to conserve jet fuel costs for the commercial and cargo airlines.
Q: If air traffic and noise is so bothersome, why don’t you just move? The airport was here first, and you knew your proximity to it when you moved here.
A: We didn’t move to the airport – it moved over us. For example:
The City of Park Ridge was incorporated in 1910, long before O’Hare opened in 1955.
The change to a parallel runway configuration that occurred in 2013 has dramatically increased the number of flights over neighborhoods that had little to no traffic in the past.
Planes are flying lower and louder as result of the NextGen system.
The diagonal runways that have been decommissioned and are no longer in use were the only runways with flight paths over non-residential areas, including forest preserves and industrial settings.
Many communities 40 miles out -- such as those in the Fox River Valley -- are experiencing unprecedented levels of noise, resulting in decreased use of outdoor space, inability to sleep and decreased quality of life. They most certainly did not move by the airport.
Q: Why all the fuss? The noise and traffic doesn’t bother me; I’m used to it.
A: Once the O’Hare Modernization Plan is complete in November 2020, the FAA has stated that an additional 1,000 flights will be added per day. Also, longer and wider runways will be able to accommodate larger planes. This includes overnight cargo, sending the largest and loudest planes over residential communities throughout the day and night. What may not bother you now could change at any time. Also, what may not bother you may wreak havoc on certain areas of your own community, affecting property values and the community as a whole.
Q: Why did O’Hare decommission the one runway (15/33) with the least negative impacts on residents?
A: The 15/33 runway, which sent air traffic over industrial parks and forest preserves, was decommissioned earlier in 2018 to make room for O’Hare expansion, the possibility of two more western concourses, and another western terminal.
Q: How can we possibly solve this problem? Are there solutions?
A: Although this is a complex problem, there are actually many solutions that, when grouped together, can bring substantial relief to those who are currently hardest hit. These solutions are part of a “Noise Action Plan” that FAiR has formulated and continues to modify. This is being accomplished with input from the community, aviation consultants, surrounding municipalities, as well as domestic and international airport groups similar to FAiR. Viable solutions include an overnight curfew, flight restrictions during shoulder hours, vortex generator use, glide slope mandates, standard instrument departures (all of which can decrease noise over residential property), regionalization via implementation of a MetroPlex (see below), among many others.
Q: How do you fight the FAA? There is no chance we’ll win.
A: There are currently 2,000+ noise lawsuits against the FAA winding through courts. Through legal action, noise precedents have been established in Los Angeles, Phoenix and Laguna Beach, CA. Baltimore is the latest city to file suit. Several law firms that specialize in aviation law have presented various viable litigation strategies to the City of Park Ridge and more recently to FAiR. Once sufficient money is raised, this option can be pursued.
Q: Doesn’t the O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission (ONCC) exist to provide noise relief?
A: The ONCC has failed in its mission to mitigate noise. Noise complaints rose to over 5.5 million in 2017 and there is no end in sight. They have failed in their strategic goal to create a viable Fly Quiet overnight rotation. Instead of providing periodic noise relief, it has delivered consecutive heavy impacts to communities surrounding O'Hare every week and every night.
Q: O’Hare is crucial to our community’s and to our region’s economy. Would FAiR’s proposed solutions negatively impact the economic benefits currently garnered from O’Hare?
A: Currently, the economic benefit to Chicago generated from O’Hare comes at a great cost to Chicago and suburban residents in the way of sleep deprivation, stress, property value reduction, safety, air pollution, gas emissions, fluid emissions, health and quality of life. This situation has risen to one of region’s worst environmental crisis in its history. FAiR’s proposed solutions offer relief to those communities hardest hit by this current crisis without pitting community against community. These solutions will benefit the region as a whole, help ensure the safety of those negatively impacted communities, and enable these communities to retain their property values and thrive.
Q: What is a MetroPlex?
A: MetroPlex is a better way to manage complex airspace by making use of other regional airports that have excess capacity available. MetroPlex locations can include up to a dozen airports. For example, Southern California Metroplex has 11 airports, Cleveland/Detroit has 7 airports. The Chicago Region has over 10 airports, yet it is not a MetroPlex.
Q: Are air traffic and noise expected to increase at night?
A: It is predicted that by 2040, there will be a 190% increase in inbound air cargo volume and a 300% increase in outbound volume. The CDA is currently building a new cargo facility to expand O’Hare’s cargo capacity by more than 50%.
Q: What about the health risks and pollution resulting from such a busy airport?
A: The combustion of jet fuel yields gaseous and particulate exhaust that can be hazardous to the health of those living near an airport. Airport emissions have been linked to cancer, asthma, brain tumors, emphysema, heart disease, leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, kidney damage, and numerous other conditions.
Jet fuel emissions include what are called ultrafine particulates. These ultrafine particles, black carbon, and nitrogen oxides can aggravate heart and lung conditions, including asthma and contribute to the development of blocked arteries. Ultrafine particulates are less than one-thousandth of the width of a human hair and can go deep into the lungs, make their way into the bloodstream, and spread to the brain, heart and other critical organs.
According to research done at LAX airport -- which has a similar configuration to O’Hare -- researchers discovered the highest concentration of ultrafine particulates, black carbon, and nitrogen oxides (roughly 6 to 8 times above normal) within a few miles of the airport and concentrations of wind-driven particles were found from jet exhaust over a 23-square-mile area. Applying these findings to O’Hare -- which has a much larger runway footprint -- the health implications for residents are staggering. Schools and homes within 10 miles of O’Hare are being inundated with toxic levels of emissions on a round-the-clock basis. Importantly, this confirms the accounts by residents in the suburbs and Chicago’s north and northwest side neighborhoods, validating their complaints that O’Hare is an overwhelming source of air pollution. They report that jet exhaust has covered their homes, schools, cars, and outdoor furniture with soot and film. These ultrafine particulates are currently not regulated by the EPA.
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