Oct. 17--A new runway opens for business Thursday at O'Hare International Airport, a part of a much larger and costly expansion that is expected to eat away at delays that are among the worst in the nation.
But the 10,800-foot stretch of pavement, with its anticipated ramp-up in flights, has also triggered an uproar over jet noise that is expected to skew toward Chicago's Northwest Side and the western suburbs.
"It is a very dangerous time for all of us living around O'Hare,'' said Gene Spanos, a Park Ridge resident who also heads the group Citizens Against Plane Pollution, which has fought the new runway. "I think the FAA has a lot more homework to do before allowing any more runways to open up here."
O'Hare's four parallel runways, which could increase to six if the city and the airport's major airlines ever agree on how to pay for them, will allow air-traffic controllers to pump out more planes than ever, up to 150 takeoffs per hour, while landing as many as 112 aircraft hourly, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
Put more simply, the airport's busiest periods will include a takeoff or landing about every 15 seconds.
The new runway ushers in an unprecedented and lasting change in air-traffic patterns at O'Hare, creating a flow that's eastbound 30 percent and westbound 70 percent over the course of a year, the FAA said. O'Hare's intersecting runways will be used sparingly, based on wind conditions, officials said.
Areas under expanded flight tracts on the Northwest Side of Chicago as well as suburbs west of the airport will be the hardest hit by the change in jet noise patterns, studies conducted by the Chicago Department of Aviation show.
Residents of communities in proximity to Pratt, Granville, Thorndale, Lawrence and Wilson avenues on the Northwest Side will see and hear more planes overhead, more often, day and night, city and FAA officials said.
Suburbs north and south of O'Hare will generally benefit from some noise relief, new noise contour maps suggest.
After a ribbon is cut on the tarmac Thursday, 10 Center/28 Center, O'Hare's newest and widest runway, will be the only airstrip capable of accommodating the largest planes in the commercial fleet: the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental, both of which are four-engine super-jumbo jets that seat 555 passengers and 400 to 500 passengers, respectively.
The number of arriving flights that O'Hare will be able to handle each hour will increase by up to 50 percent in good weather and increase about 25 percent during low-visibility, the FAA said.
But there are obstacles that could reduce the projected gains. As new runways will allow the airlines to increase the number of flights at O'Hare, gates for parking aircraft may be in short supply. Back in the 1990s, when there was an unofficial moratorium on new O'Hare runways because of strong suburban opposition, Chicago planned to build two additional terminals to alleviate a gate shortage. The terminals were never built.
The new runway, dubbed "the cemetery runway'' by O'Hare air-traffic controllers because it is on a recently removed graveyard, is only the second runway built since construction began eight years ago on the O'Hare expansion project, which was originally supposed to be completed last year but now will continue until at least 2020, according to projections by the Chicago Department of Aviation.
Although the FAA said that an O'Hare runway that opened in 2008 has reduced delays in aircraft taxiing times and other air-traffic metrics, from where the air traveler sits there has been minimal noticeable improvement.
O'Hare ranks dead last for on-time departures, and third from last for on-time arrivals, among the 29 largest U.S. airports in the first seven months of this year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Chicago and FAA officials predict the poor performance will improve thanks to the new, more efficient flight alignment that starts Thursday.
Chicago aviation officials like to point to the 31-year-old airport in Dallas as a proven model for the parallel runways envisioned at the future O'Hare International Airport.
Chicago has promised that its $14.7 billion plan virtually will eliminate late and canceled flights during bad weather.
The center will monitor 1 of 2 new runways at O'Hare Airport.
The first new O'Hare runway in the eight-runway configuration will not open until at least 2008, a full year later than the city's original schedule.