Vertiport Chicago, about 3 miles from that city’s Loop business district, has industrial surroundings and four hospitals nearby. Photo courtesy of Vertiport Chicago
Vertiport Chicago was created to fill a void in the city left by the illegal bulldozing of Meigs Field in 2003. After then-Mayor Richard M. Daley sacrificed the runway in the effort to build a lakefront park in its place, downtown Chicago was left without close flight options (O’Hare is about 16 miles from the downtown lakefront area). Twelve years later, Vertiport opened for rotorcraft in the Medical District and presented the area, and the four surrounding hospitals, with a base. But after a year and a half, residents in nearby neighborhoods have had it with the noise.
The Vertiport is designed to accommodate executive charters, private helicopters, aerial photography and film work, and tourism operations. The company notes itself as North America’s largest and Chicago’s only vertical helicopter landing facility, with 30,000 square feet of hangar space, a 24-hour refueling station, a single take-off-and-landing spot and eight helicopter parking spots.
Earlier this week, residents of Tri-Taylor and University Village met with Alderman Jason Ervin at Vertiport to voice their complaints, according to local news reports. Helicopter noise in the area is nearly constant, coming from helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS), tours, news organizations, delivery companies, government and other private operators. To sort out the disruption, some residents reportedly called the FAA. But helicopter noise is not the FAA's problem. In fact, it’s no one's problem.
Ervin was surprised, news outlets reported, to find that the Chicago Dept. of Aviation, the Illinois Dept. of Transportation's Aeronautics division and the FAA do not generally regulate heliports, or the like, in the area. Residents would like to see more air traffic control. Vertiport does set voluntary no-fly zone boundaries, which all pilots (except those in HEMS operations) are encouraged to respect. The facility said it has told pilots to comply or find somewhere else to land.
There are other noisemakers in the area, like the Chicago Transit Authority’s Pink Line train system. Bridgeport's tour company, Chicago Helicopter Experience, is not far from Vertiport. It is experiencing similar noise complaints from nearby residents. With guidance, but no enforcement, available from the FAA, aldermen aim to work with the city to see if they can set mandates to gain control over flight traffic in order to consider residents' concerns.