New O’Hare flight paths wake hundreds of Chicagoans beyond free-insulation zone

Chicago O’Hare Airport has a real noise problem. Figures for March show hundreds of Chicago residents were kept awake by aircraft noise, even though they live outside an area predicted to shoulder the worst noise from new flight paths. Analysis from the complaints website shows these people live outside a “noise contour” that determines eligibility for free sound insulation. The noise complaints came from up to 13 miles away from the airport, which is over 8 miles beyond the limits of the noise contour that the FAA predicted would experience onerous jet noise once an $8 billion O’Hare Modernization Program is completed. Studying the locations from where complaints come, it can be seen that many are between two flight paths, which shows people are being affected by noise from both. (That would be the case over London if there was another runway – two parallel arrivals routes a mile or so apart). Changes to Chicago flight paths were made from October 2013 when flight were shifted to being mainly over suburbs north and south of O’Hare to mostly areas east and west of it. Some people are aware of many flights over them at night, with one resident counting 19 between 11.30pm and 6am on one night. People are finding the sleep disturbance very distressing.

New O’Hare flight paths wake hundreds of Chicagoans beyond free-insulation zone

4.5.2015 (Chicago Sun Times)
Land featuring forest preserve, highways or commercial areas that is compatible with O’Hare Airport’s Fly Quiet program is depicted in purple on this map.

O’Hare International Airport jet traffic kept hundreds of Chicago residents awake in March, even though they live outside an area predicted to shoulder the worst noise from new flight paths, a Chicago Sun-Times analysis indicates.

More than 95% of Chicagoans who reported that O’Hare jets disturbed their sleep live outside a “noise contour” that determines eligibility for free sound insulation, an analysis of complaints to shows.

In fact, March sleep complaints stretch as far east as Sheridan Road in Chicago’s 48th Ward, along Lake Michigan.

That’s 13 miles from the center of O’Hare and more than 8 miles beyond the limits of the noise contour that Federal Aviation Administration experts predicted would experience onerous jet noise once an $8 billion O’Hare Modernization Program is completed.

Plotted on a map, the complaints fan out like a shotgun blast. Many line up with runways. But others are between two east-west runways, indicating that those residents are being hit with noise from more than one flight path, said Darrin Thomas, who created the citizen website that people can gripe to about jet noise.

Fred Cnota of Norwood Park is one of them. As many as five days a week, he says, shortly after 6 a.m., he can see flights headed toward two runways.

“It’s nonstop noise,” he said.

The sleep complaints reflect the dramatic October 2013 shift that switched flights from traveling mostly over suburbs north and south of O’Hare to mostly areas east and west of it.

“It’s insane, the amount of traffic,” said Paula Getman, who lives in the city’s 39th Ward, where the biggest cluster of March sleep complaints — 8,789 — occurred. “It’s slow torture.”

Getman reported her sleep was disturbed 265 times in March. One 24-hour period included five jets from 11:25 p.m. to 1 a.m., 13 more from 2 a.m. to 3:04 a.m., then a final single salute at 5:52 a.m.

Getman said she has lived in her North Park bungalow since 1997 but now it’s “a completely different place.”

Sleep-disturbance complaints indicate the Federal Aviation Administration’s noise contour does not accurately reflect the impact of O’Hare’s new flight paths, said Jac Charlier, a leader of the Fair Allocation in Runways citizen coalition, or FAIR.

“The noise contour, like almost everything else that has happened with the O’Hare Modernization Program, has been wrong. Dead wrong,” Charlier said.

 A deadly experience?

Complaints to the city’s jet noise hotline and website skyrocketed after the O’Hare runway switch. Suddenly, 70 percent of air traffic entered O’Hare from the east over Chicago and departed to the west.

Jet noise complaints to the city soared even higher last week, when the city released the first batch of figures reflecting complaints forwarded from the citizen website.

On Friday, noise complaints to since Feb. 1 surpassed the 1 million mark. A Sun-Times analysis of just March O’Hare complaints to that site found that more than 61,000 were listed as disrupting sleep. They included 377 Chicagoans who registered 28,843 such reports.

About three-quarters of the March sleep complaints span the Fly Quiet hours of 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., when pilots are urged to fly over less-populated areas.

Of Chicago complainants who listed addresses, 97 percent lived outside noise contour areas predicted to be hit with jet noise loud enough to qualify for free sound insulation.

Experts say repeated sleep disruptions can lead to increased chances of cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, obesity and even death.

In general, “people who sleep five hours a night have an increased risk of death — substantially,” said Dr. Charles Czeisler, a professor of sleep medicine at Harvard University.

Heading to the basement

Under the overhaul plan, two more runways, and the extension of a third, are due by 2020, although funding for much of that work is uncertain. The noise contour is not due to be revised until 2025, although the FAA is re-evaluating the decibel level used to draw such contours nationwide.


Click for larger image.

The city has been insulating additional homes inside the contour before each runway opens. But with nearly all complaints occurring outside insulation-eligible areas, most residents must find their own ways to deal with overnight jet noise.

Some use deep breathing exercises; others run the dryer.

Dr. Phyllis Zee, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, recommends heavy curtains or noise-canceling machines or earplugs.

Michael Kraetsch holds an iPad with a decibel meter application he uses to measure noise from planes flying overhead on April 28, 2015. | James Foster/For Sun-Times Media

In the 40th Ward, Michael Kraetsch plans to sleep on an air mattress in his basement during the next bad onslaught. That’s usually over the holidays, when Kraetsch said overnight cargo flights seem relentless. He reported 334 sleep disruptions in March on the citizen website.

When he moved from Wisconsin to Chicago in 2014, Kraetsch said, “I never in my wildest dreams imagined that we would be having planes in the middle of the night. I didn’t look at the house at 1 o’clock in the morning [before buying it].”

Zee urged residents to record decibel levels in their homes.

“You need data,” Zee said.

Kraetsch measured the decibel level in his bedroom during at least three flights on a recent night between 11:15 p.m. and midnight. He said it was 65 to 75 decibels – well above the 55-decibel level officially considered onerous at night outside a home.

The Chicago Department of Aviation declined repeated requests for an interview about O’Hare jet noise and would not respond to emailed questions.

City officials previously have said the runway switch was needed to increase capacity and reduce delays caused by diagonal runways that intersect.

Saving the diagonals

The sleep complaints are another reason lawmakers should allow O’Hare to keep two diagonal runways open instead of decommissioning them before new runways are added, FAIR’s Charlier said. Legislation to do so has passed the Illinois Senate and is making its way through the Illinois House.

One diagonal runway in particular, 14R, leads to a long stretch of mostly non-residential land. Yet 14R was used for only 1 percent of arrivals during Fly Quiet hours in the fourth quarter of 2014, city data shows.

Charlier contends overnight O’Hare traffic is lopsided in favor of one arrival and one departure runway and should be spread out on different nights on different runways, including diagonal ones marked for closure.

“Don’t build lots of runways and then only use one for night arrivals,” Charlier said. “It’s a waste of taxpayer money.”

Thomas urged the city to publicly report and plot noise complaints on a map as he does in real time on his website.

“If I can do it with off-the-shelf technology, why can’t they?” Thomas asked. “I think they aren’t doing it because it’s embarrassing.”



See earlier:

Illinois State Senate passes bills designed to reduce O’Hare jet noise

In late 2013 the flight paths at Chicago O’Hare airport were changed, and since then thousands of residents have been exposed to far more aircraft noise. The authorities are trying to find ways to reduce their noise exposure. The Illinois Senate has now unanimously approved legislation to mitigate jet noise by increasing the cap on the number of runways to 10 from 8, and prohibiting the city of Chicago from closing and demolishing any of the airport’s 4 diagonal runways. The aim is to distribute the noise more evenly. The two bills are aimed at expanding O’Hare flight paths are going next to the Illinois House of Representatives for consideration. If one of the diagonal runways is closed, its flights will be distributed to the other runways, causing more noise for some people. Keeping 10 runways operational at O’Hare would increase maintenance costs. And while all 10 runways would never be used simultaneously, the more complex airfield layout could create safety risks involving more planes taxiing across runways on their way to the gate or other runways. Noise complaints filed online and to a city-operated hot line totalled 39,500 in January, setting a new monthly record. In 2014, for the whole year, noise complaints totalled 268,211, also an all-time high.

Click here to view full story…

Chicago voters get chance to be heard in public ballot on O’Hare airport noise problem

Chicago O’Hare airport has a new 4th runway that opened in October 2013 as well another new 5th runway that is due to open in late 2015. Others are planned. Since the start of 2014 there has been a distinct change in the flight paths, and huge opposition to the change. The number of complaints to the airport have risen sharply, month after month. However (and how often this has been heard from UK airports too) the authorities claim the numbers are false, as some people complain multiple times. This masks the fact that some don’t complain at all, being unsure how to, and being unconvinced that the airport will take any notice whatsoever. There is now a ballot of residents in 7 affected suburbs of Chicago, but all such referendums in Illinois are only “advisory.”  The questions being asked are on whether the FAA should create and enforce mandatory “fly-quiet” hours around O’Hare. The restrictions would replace the existing voluntary guidelines that ask airlines and pilots to try to reduce noise impacts after 10 pm. Another asks if aircraft noise should be reduced after 7pm,  and people are also asked about more noise insulation being available.  Airport had about 66.9 million passengers in 2013.  Chicago O’Hare on Wikipedia.



Residents in Chicago, fed up with O’Hare airport jet noise, take to the streets to fight it

O’Hare airport in Chicago has been upsetting residents to the northwest of the city, by changing flight paths, so some people are being over flown a great deal than before. This is the result of the O’Hare Modernization Project that took effect in October 2013. The changes mean that 85% of O’Hare arrivals and departures between 11 pm and 6am will fly over homes in certain suburbs. Those living under these flight paths face not only the noise, the annoyance, the potential impacts on their health and the loss of sleep, but also a decrease in their property prices.  The local community campaign, FAiR (Fair Allocation in Runways) has been touring affected neighbourhoods giving out door hanger signs encouraging people to get active and fight the flight paths, or else “kiss your property values goodbye.”  They plan to hand out door hangers to 50,000 homes. They also have “yard signs” (placards to stick in the front garden) for the campaign, selling these to raise campaign funds. Just as in London and near other UK airports, people are devastated by the new noise pollution. One commented that even with noise insulation, it was impossible to avoid the noise in the neighbourhood, even by going shopping, going swimming, going to the park. It cannot be avoided.



Chicago O’Hare airport new runway & flightpaths creating huge opposition by those now over-flown

Chicago O’Hare airport currently has many runways but not all can be used simultaneously. The airport has been building more, reducing the lengths of others, to get three parallel runways can be used together. There has been a lot of controversy about the plans over many years, with compulsory purchase of land, from residents who did not want to move.  There is now huge protest against the noise. A group representing city and suburban home-owners, the Fair Allocation in Runways Coalition (FAiR), is asking the Chicago Aviation Commissioner to resign or for the Mayor to fire her.  FAiR say there is  “mounting frustration over the lack of response from the Mayor on possible remedies concerning “the ceaseless airplane noise” since air-traffic patterns were changed last autumn.  The Aviation Commissioner has refused to consider altering the use of runways at night to spread out jet noise instead of concentrating it over one or two air corridors. FAiR says she has made up her mind that there will be no change at O’Hare no matter how many citizens demand change, no matter what solutions are proposed and no matter how devastating the impact of her decisions on families, children and seniors, and even entire neighbourhoods.