November 29, 2000 Chicago Tribune


By Rogers Worthington
Tribune Staff Writer
November 29, 2000

After Barrington residents complained about low-flying aircraft, noise commission officials Tuesday agreed to study whether the suburb has experienced the same problems that have plagued communities closer to O'Hare International Airport.

Michael Blandford, a Barrington resident and a former pilot for Trans Air Airlines, complained that aircraft heading for O'Hare passed over his home at altitudes as low as 1,800 feet.

"It's not the quantity of flights; it's how low they are coming over," said Blandford, who estimated that before last summer, incoming aircraft kept to altitudes of 5,000 feet or so over Barrington.

Aircraft headed for O'Hare are required to be no lower than 2,400 feet at the airport's outer marker, which is 5.2 miles northwest of the airport. Barrington is nearly 24 miles northwest of the airport.

Arlene Mulder, mayor of Arlington Heights and chairman of the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission, said the problem was a longtime concern for communities closer to the airport, such as Arlington Heights. The commission's technical committee met Tuesday in Arlington Heights with noise-abatement officials of the Chicago Department of Aviation.

"It's planes getting too low too soon," she said. "We have to put an initiative together to address this issue."

Another longtime concern to Mulder and other commission members has been how departing aircraft sometimes deviate from suggested "Fly Quiet" flight tracks aimed at minimizing noise over heavy residential areas. She said she was also concerned about the heavy use of one runway--known as 32 Left --which sends departing flights over several northwest suburbs, including Arlington Heights.

The runway is popular because, at 13,000 feet, it is the longest of O'Hare's seven runways and has only 1,000 homes within a half-mile of either side of its northwest end.

Thirty-one percent of all departing flights, and 41 percent of flights departing between 11:15 p.m. and 6:15 a.m., from January through September of this year used the runway, according to a Chicago Department of Aviation analysis.

Assistant Aviation Commissioner Chris Arman said the percentages were higher this year because in previous years 32 Left was often closed for reconstruction.

Exacerbating the problem is that many flights turn to their destination headings before they reach the minimum altitude of 3,000 feet required by the Fly Quiet program. Noise from an ascending aircraft is louder below 3,000 feet.

Mulder said that adherence to Fly Quiet had declined with the increase in delays at O'Hare this past year.

The commission and Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner Thomas Walker began sending letters this fall to airlines whose flights have been identified as deviating from the Fly Quiet flight paths.

A report on efforts to persuade airlines to obey the Fly Quiet rules will be completed in January or February, Mulder said.

So far, the commission has sidestepped whether to publicly identify airlines that are the most common offenders.