Another FAA-NextGen Noise Ghetto: Bensenville, IL

In Washington, DC, a congressional committee is using the need to ‘re-authorize’ FAA spending as an excuse to try to ramrod a packaged sellout to the airlines. The package, generously called the ‘Aviation Innovation, Reform & Reauthorization Act’ (AIRR), contains 273-pages of ‘transformational’ legislation that seeks to insulate the airlines and ATC from Congressional oversight.

At the same time, across the nation, the repetitive noise of FAA’s NextGen operations continues to destroy once pleasant neighborhoods. One of those neighborhoods is in the Chicago area, the Village of Bensenville to the west of O’Hare Airport.

(click on image to view satellite map)

The new runway (10C) opened in 2013, and is marked with a thick red line. Hillside Drive is the east-west road under the south edge of the final approach course, and is marked with a thin red box in the left half of the image. (click on image to view satellite map)

Residents along Hillside Drive began enduring horrific repetitive flight noise when a new runway was opened in the Fall of 2013. Although FAA swears they complied with NEPA regulations and found the noise impacts would not be significant, some residents have hardly slept since.

Judge for yourself. Look and listen to the residents in this recently published video:

Frankly, the root of the problem at O’Hare is the use of this location as a major airline hub. It can be bad even if only one of the ‘final four’ major U.S. airlines operates a ‘superhub’, but at O’Hare, this is done by two: both United/Continental and American/USAir.

We all understand the concept of ‘economy of scale’, but in reality, there is an enormous ‘diseconomy of scale’ that sets in when airports grow too large. Multiple airlines and the airport authority can run a very successful operation at a smaller and more easily manageable airport, such as with a single pair of parallel runways, generating lots of profits while also serving the air transportation needs of the local community members. Economy of scale continues to this level of airport development. But, once the third parallel runway goes in, or if ATC is using multiple sets of parallel runways, diseconomy sets in. The added airport capacity, when utilized, creates a mess in many ways: not just the repetitive noise impact on neighborhoods, but also the magnified air pollution, the near-airport traffic congestion, the passenger chaos within the airport terminal, and the near-collisions and ‘SNAFU’ aspect that controllers must contend with.  All so that the airline can tweak out a bit more profit.

In the worst cases (U.S. airports KORD, KATL, KPHX and KCLT come to mind), the hub airlines schedule heavy ‘banks’ of non-stop arrivals and departures. The noise impact can stretch for hours, and yet much of the noise has nothing to do with serving the local community. People fly into the airport, walk to another gate, and fly out – never even visiting the community. The high traffic levels (and impacts) are thus related only to serving the airline’s ‘passenger sort facility’ (aka ‘hub’) business model. Of course, this business model is aimed solely at generating profits …and corporate representatives have a palpable disdain for homeowners and residents who complain about noise and other impacts. A disdain that FAA happily enables.

So, here we are in February 2016. After months of intensive preparatory work coordinated by the airline lobbyist, Airlines for America, Bill Shuster has capitulated to that same lobbyist by proposing his ‘transformational’ REFORM package. REFORM is in the name and yet the package has nothing to do with correcting problems like the Noise Ghettos being created in places like Bensenville (…and FQ Story, and Palo Alto, and Seattle, and Milton, and Flushing, and Mount Holly, and Georgetown…). And, on top of that, Mr. Shuster has admitted to having a personal relationship with a high-level official at Airlines for America, the sort of conflict of interest that past Congresses would never tolerate.

Here’s a suggestion for Mr. Shuster (& Ms. Rubino), Mr. LoBiondo, Mr. Calio, Mr.Huerta and Mr. Rinaldi: sit down with your family and watch this Hillside video (and, while you are at it, check out the video of flight-attendant Serena). Then, REFORM. Let these people sleep and enjoy their yards, for crying out loud!

Quit teasing the public and playing games to enrich your crony friends. Re-authorize FAA immediately, but insert REAL TRANSFORMATIONAL change, such as congestion pricing and a steep aviation fuel tax. You are lying when you claim the ATC system is operating on antique technologies, and you are also lying when you claim NextGen benefits that are already being realized without additional NextGen development. You are claiming ‘ATC corporatization’ is necessary, when you know this is just a bogus sales pitch. And most importantly, you know: the cascading delays and most other ‘claimed problems’ would be solved, almost immediately, if you would simply do two things:

  1. change the aviation taxes and fees to disincentivize the overuse of superhubs like O’Hare, and
  2. demand accountable performance at FAA.