Residential noise complaints involving jets at O'Hare International Airport hit a record in 2013, which included a spike in objections just after a runway opened in the fall, according to a new city report.
The noise complaints rose 36 percent from October to November, to 4,763. That is the first full month after flight patterns were changed at O'Hare in mid-October to incorporate a fourth east-west runway, according to data compiled by the Chicago Department of Aviation.
A total of 24,847 complaints were filed between January and November — more than for any full year on record since Chicago installed noise-monitoring devices in 1996, said Jeffrey Jackson, an aviation planner at Landrum & Brown, which provides consulting services to the aviation department.
"It does look like, for the year, we will have the largest number of complaints we've ever had,'' Jackson said at a meeting Friday of the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission.
December data will be available next month.
Congressman Mike Quigley, whose district includes O'Hare, predicted that complaints will rise further in the spring, when windows are open.
"People are going to be outside, in their backyards. You can image that these complaints are going to go way up,'' Quigley said.
Under the air-traffic changes, the majority of planes take off on runways heading west, and most arriving flights approach O'Hare from the east.
As a result, airplane noise patterns have shifted. Areas to the east and west of O'Hare are experiencing more jet noise, while areas to the north and south of the airport are generally enjoying a noise reduction.
As complaints from residents and Chicago-area members of Congress have risen, so has pressure to expand voluntary guidelines designed to reduce jet noise. Proponents want these "fly quiet" times, which call on pilots and air traffic controllers to use designated runways and flight tracks from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., to begin at 9 p.m.
But city aviation officials are taking a hard line against making adjustments.
"The Chicago Department of Aviation and its airline partners have made a considerable investment in modernizing O'Hare so that it can better serve the aviation needs of people and businesses,'' Chicago Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino said in a letter dated Wednesday to Quigley and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, whose district includes parts of Chicago and some northern suburbs.
"O'Hare handles a considerable amount of traffic between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. that would be negatively impacted by limiting available runways. As a result, the (aviation department) does not support any changes to the hours of the Fly Quiet Program,'' Andolino said.
In the letter, Andolino also ruled out possible changes to flight paths, saying such a move would "simply displace noise impacts from one neighborhood to another.''
Andolino did not respond to a Tribune request Friday for an interview.
Quigley said he will press for the city and the Federal Aviation Administration to equally distribute takeoffs and landings on O'Hare's four parallel east-west runways to reduce the noise burden on single neighborhoods.
He supports the runway expansion project, but he also has pushed harder for accommodations from the city in recent months, based on feedback from his constituents.
"I don't think anyone who lives near O'Hare bargained for such a saturation of noise in a single area," Quigley said in a Friday phone interview from Washington. "We are starting to get readings from noise monitors that are farther out too, like in the North Park neighborhood, and the decibels are pretty high.''
Quigley said he has not spoken face-to-face recently with Andolino or Mayor Rahm Emanuel on the noise issue, but he plans to soon.
"I am hoping we can make a robust aviation system not incompatible with robust neighborhoods,'' he said.