The [Tuesday] Papers
"O'Hare International Airport's voluntary 'fly quiet' program is routinely ignored in the early morning, the city said Monday, conceding what sleep-deprived residents near the airport have been complaining about for years," the Tribune reports.
You know what else was routinely ignored, then? The complaints of residents for years!
"Between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. every day, only one runway is supposed to be used for arriving flights at O'Hare, and pilots are asked by FAA air traffic controllers to follow designated fly-quiet tracks over less-populated areas.
"But the airlines have increased the number of overnight red-eye flights from the West Coast and Hawaii that start arriving at O'Hare as early as 5:30 a.m., an aviation consultant for the city told the Fly Quiet Committee of the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission. Planes flying shorter routes from the east also have increased, he said."
1. Why is the program voluntary? It might as well not exist, then.
2. Pilots and the airlines they work for don't just decide on their own to violate even voluntary rules of one of the world's busiest airports. At best, they have tacit permission from City Hall. The city's current aviation commissioner is Ginger Evans, but for most of the time in question, it was Rosemarie Andolino.
Also, a riddle: How many aviation council members does it take to not provide oversight on one of the world's biggest airports? 18.
"As a result, one runway, which can safely accommodate about 40 landings per hour, is not enough, said Douglas Goldberg of Landrum & Brown, the city's longtime airport-planning consultant."
Thanks, Doug, but let me tell you something about Landrum & Brown. From part three of the Tribune's 2000 Pulitzer Prize-winning "Gateway to Gridlock:"
Landrum & Brown, the city's longtime aviation planning consultant, provides a case study in how politics and contracts mingle at O'Hare.
The Cincinnati-based firm, which is now paid $12 million a year and has played a crucial role in the city's efforts to block Peotone, operated on the same no-bid city contract from 1968 to 1995, when it got another no-bid deal.
Besides donating to the mayor's campaign and charities overseen by Daley's wife, the firm hired Oscar D'Angelo as its political adviser shortly after Daley took office. It also has handed subcontracts to companies owned by Daley allies. Former campaign manager Carolyn Grisko helps with public relations, Democratic fundraiser Niranjah Shah does engineering work, and Chicago Housing Authority Chairwoman Sharon Gist Gilliam is a computer consultant.
Oh, but that's not all:
In 1990, Daley dropped a bombshell, announcing plans for a $5 billion new airport at Lake Calumet on the city's Southeast Side.
The mayor argued that the new airport would take pressure off O'Hare and appease the northwest suburbs that were opposed to O'Hare expansion. He proposed to pay for the airport with a new $3 passenger ticket tax that Chicago Democrats pushed through Congress.
But the Lake Calumet proposal immediately hit turbulence because of concerns over its spiraling costs and resistance from South Siders who didn't want Midway shuttered. The airport plan fell apart after Republicans helped kill it in the state Senate in summer 1992, and Daley abandoned the idea.
By focusing attention on Lake Calumet, the city "succeeded again in preventing [the state] from making any meaningful progress towards developing a new airport in a suburban location," Landrum & Brown President Jeff Thomas wrote in a memo to city officials.
"Thus the city has conducted a protracted but successful guerrilla war against the state forces that would usurp control of the city's airports."
It also left Daley with a huge new pot of money, the passenger ticket tax, which has funneled more than $600 million into the city's coffers since it was passed by Congress in 1990. The city has spent the money on runway resurfacing, terminal upgrades and consultants' fees, but not on new runways or a new airport.
And consultants' fees!
After all, they have tuition to pay and casinos to visit too.
But here's the real kicker:
Forecasts by City Hall's own aviation consultants have repeatedly indicated since 1980 that O'Hare is running out of room. But this became a problem when Peotone emerged as the leading option.
City officials have used a grab bag of tricks to fix the problem. They have changed the formula for devising forecasts and tossed aside forecasts that didn't match their arguments.
And they have insisted that O'Hare can handle more flights because of anticipated improvements in air traffic control that haven't yet materialized, records show.
For example, a 1993 forecast by Landrum & Brown showed that O'Hare would be out of capacity in two years.
"If this is the case, then why build anything at all except a new airport?" wrote Doug Trezise, another city consultant, in a 1993 memo to Chicago aviation officials.
The solution was simple: Change the formula.
The original calculation was based on how many passengers would use O'Hare if enough runways were built to meet the demand. City officials asked Landrum & Brown to base the new forecast on how many passengers would use O'Hare given its existing capacity.
The resulting numbers were much more palatable.
The numbers game continued two years later. Landrum & Brown came out with new forecasts that were uncomfortably close to predictions that state officials were using to tout the need for Peotone. But this presented a problem for the city.
"Clearly, the similarities between the L&B numbers and those developed by the [state's consultants] will make it more difficult for the city to debate the third-airport issue on the basis of demand forecasts," consultant Ramon Ricondo wrote in a 1995 letter to a top aviation official.
The Daley administration didn't change its position. It simply chose not to release the 1995 forecasts, the Tribune learned from court records.
Then, in 1998, the Daley administration pulled its best statistical stunt yet, again with the help of Landrum & Brown.
The consultants finally delivered a forecast that the city could not only live with but trumpet. The new figures were 25 percent lower than the previous prediction.
The forecasting change was made possible, in part, by careful manipulation of the numbers. Landrum & Brown plugged a population forecast into its formula that was lower than many other population estimates.
The lower number--which called for the Chicago area's population to grow at about half the rate of previous years--had the effect of dampening the aviation forecast.
Where Landrum & Brown had forecast 61 million passengers for the year 2015 in its 1995 study, it now predicted only 46 million passengers in its revised forecast. (Last year, about 36.3 million passengers boarded planes at O'Hare.)
"A realistic forecast proves a new rural airport is not necessary for the region," Landrum & Brown concluded in a summary of its findings.
Though it's too soon to say if Landrum & Brown's prediction is off the mark, one thing is certain: The population number it used was far too low. Already, the population in the Chicago region has exceeded the forecast for 2007 that Landrum & Brown used for its study, according to estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau.
"What L&B did was just go looking for low numbers," said Suhail al Chalabi, a state aviation consultant. "Nobody has used numbers this low before."
Officials at Landrum & Brown declined to comment.
More than a month after the series ran, the Tribune published a letter from Landrum & Brown president Jeffrey Thomas charging that the paper had gotten its facts wrong, though no correction was forthcoming, leaving readers in the dark. My policy would be that Landrum & Brown had their chance to answer reporters' questions and refused, so too bad; I would not reward such a refusal by publishing their unvetted press release.
Landrum & Brown's core values: "We remain true to our values of quality, honesty, and hard work. We have the highest ethical standards in the industry. We 'do the right thing.' L&B is a company based on trust."
Yes, Landrum & Brown seems to be one of the "good guys" in today's story. That just says to me that there is another motive at work emanating from City Hall.
Back to today's Trib:
"How long more than one runway has been used in the early morning could not immediately be determined, according to officials from the Chicago Department of Aviation and the Federal Aviation Administration."
How hard could it be to determine this? Not only would there be plenty of data in the computer banks, but you could just go interview air traffic controllers, who are the type of people who remember every damn flight they've called forever.
(One of my all-time favorite stories was "Into Thick Air," when I hung out with air traffic controllers on the job.)
From one of my all-time favorite magazine stories, by Darcy Frey, in the New York Times (and the inspiration for Pushing Tin):
At Dunkin' Donuts, Zack's booming voice and machine-gun laugh turn the heads of several patrons, as does his order for 12 coffees, each with different milk and sugar requirements. "If I don't come back with 12 coffees, the guys look down on me," Zack explains.
These guys know.
Back to today's Trib:
"Noise complaints have soared to record numbers since a new O'Hare runway opened in 2013. Another new runway - the fifth in a six-parallel-runway plan - opened last week."
New runways don't mitigate noise or delays if the number of flights using them increases accordingly; it just makes things worse.
"Catherine Dunlap, who chairs the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission's technical committee, expressed frustration over how long it's taking the city to develop a comprehensive plan addressing O'Hare noise.
"I just want to make sure the public knows we are talking about the same things that we talked about before" in July, Dunlap told the other members of the Fly Quiet Committee.
"Federal officials released incorrect and incomplete information about how new O'Hare International Airport flight paths would affect residents during a legally required period of public comment, the Chicago Sun-Times has found," the paper reports.
"Nearly three-quarters of the figures in one key table - on the now-contentious issue of what percentage of traffic each runway will carry - were quietly changed online months after public hearings ended, the Sun-Times discovered."
Lesson: If the FAA, City Hall or some consultant tells you that's not a plane you see in the sky, check it out.
Cubs Curse Decoded!
The Beachwood Tip Line: Push tin.
Posted on October 20, 2015