Risk of air collisions spurs action from FAA


Keenan Browe

Risk of air collisions spurs action from FAA

By Assistant Metro Editor

Barely averted airplane collisions at O’Hare International Airport have prompted the Federal Aviation Administration to implement air traffic changes to reduce safety risks, despite increased noise surrounding communities may face.

O’Hare Airport’s converging runways cause flight paths to intersect, increasing chances of midair collisions if an airplane has to discontinue its landing and ascend back into the air, according to a July 1 National Transportation Safety Board press release. After reviewing reports of near collisions, the NTSB recommended using fewer runways to make landing and takeoff safer, FAA Spokesman Tony Molinaro said in an email.

As a result, O’Hare is using only two runway lanes for departure instead of three–making landings and takeoffs louder–since April 15, said Jac Charlier, co-founder of Fair Allocation in Runways, a community group that voices concerns about changes to O’Hare.

The FAA required air traffic control at all airports with similar converging runways, such as Las Vegas McCarran International Airport and Charlotte Douglas International Airport, to modify their arrival and departure procedures effective April 15, Molinaro said.

Before the FAA’s rules went into effect, O’Hare could operate three arrival and departure runways depending on the number of flights and the wind conditions, Molinaro said. Under the new rules, the airport will still have three arrival runways in use, but only two runways will be used for departures.

These operations will stay in place while the FAA evaluates the airport to make landing and takeoff less risky for pilots and passengers, Molinaro said. The flight path for planes landing and taking off at O’Hare will not change, he said.

Although the new set of rules may make air travel safer during busy summer travel months, surrounding neighborhoods such as Edgebrook will experience considerable noise, Charlier said.

“We live in the middle of this air traffic area so we understand there are things that go with that, including noise,” Charlier said. “What we are experiencing at different times, day and night, is a plane every 30 seconds to one minute flying over our homes.”

Charlier said the Edgebrook community generally supports O’Hare airport and acknowledges that it is an economic boon to the city, but the government has failed to give the community a chance to get involved with O’Hare’s changes.

“Democracy is not done,” Charlier said. “Democracy is about both the people and the process, but when people are left out of the process, there is no democracy. The idea is that major decisions made by the government where there is major impact requires active [community] engagement.”

The Edgebrook community filed 11,145 noise complaints in March alone, according to a March 2014 Chicago Department of Aviation report. There have been more than 24,938 complaints filed so far this year, close to the 29,493 complaints made in all of 2013.

Residents west of O’Hare have experienced less noise since the changes were implemented, said Craig Johnson, mayor of Elk Grove Village, Ill.

“In a lot of ways, we are better off than we have ever been,” Johnson said. “Our battle was never about noise. [It] was about Chicago taking communities and property.”

Although the new rules do not pose an inconvenience to Elk Grove, Johnson said the FAA needs to create guidelines to ensure the safety of passengers and airplanes.

“O’Hare was dangerous to start with,” Johnson said. “It’s a nightmare sometimes. I applaud the FAA; they are doing their job. You can only fit so many planes in the air space.”

In the interim, the O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission, an agency in cooperation with the CDA and FAA, will closely monitor CDA data regarding aircraft noise and flight paths, said Jeanette Camacho, executive director of the ONCC, in a May 8 email. The commission will also monitor installation of sound insulation in homes and schools directly affected by aircraft noise, Camacho said.

Charlier said residents should continue to file noise complaints despite whether they impact the city’s future decisions regarding O’Hare because the community will continue to be impacted if people do not stand their ground.

“We support the economic engine that is O’Hare,” Charlier said. “We want to stay aware of changes in our neighborhood. I believe communication ends with an action. We want to leave people with an action they can do to get involved.”