Air Control Towers at Risk: Southern Illinois Far from Exempt
March 1, 2013
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    The following airports would lose their air traffic control towers under the sequestration.

    – St. Louis Regional in Alton/St. Louis

    – Aurora Tower in Sugar Grove

    – Central Illinois Regional at Bloomington-Normal

    – Decatur Airport

    – Dupage Airport in West Chicago IL

    – Southern Illinois Airport

    – Williamson County Regional Airport

    – Springfield Tower

    – Waukegan Regional in Chicago/Waukegan

    If federal lawmakers fail to reach a deal averting the sequestration, air travel at more than half of the nation’s airports could become more risky, airport professionals said.

    The sequestration would close 238 air traffic control towers, nine in Illinois, including the towers at the Williamson County Regional Airport in Marion and the Southern Illinois Airport in Murphysboro — the sixth most busy airport in Illinois. If unchecked, towers could begin closing as early as April 1.

    Williamson County Regional Airport Director Doug Kimmel said aircraft would still operate, but the closures boil down to one thing: safety.

    “The safety at airports across the country would be certainly compromised without the control towers operating that are currently in place.”

    Kimmel said the FAA has arbitrarily determined airports with fewer than 150,000 takeoffs or landings would lose control towers.

    “We’re extremely frustrated by this approach to dealing with the lack of federal leadership,” Gary Shafer, Southern Illinois Airport manager, said. “They’re essentially making air traffic control services a whipping boy and we’re highly disappointed in that. It is wrongheaded thinking. I don’t want to forecast what may happen, but we’re deeply concerned.”

    The impact at Southern Illinois Airport would be serious Shafer said because of the high concentration of student air traffic from the SIU Aviation Program. The air space around the airport, he said, gets saturated with aircraft, and students more than anyone need assistance from a control tower.

    U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, was still serving as adjutant general of the Illinois National Guard when Congress passed sequestration, but has since heard from constituents about how sequestration would affect their lives.

    “This is really a terrible example of what this whole sequestration gimmick is doing,” he said. “Nobody can argue whether air traffic control is important or not, and this is a result of people who won’t come to the table and bargain.”

    U.S. Rep John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, said partisan politics have prevented a deal from being reached.

    “We have a $16.6 trillion national debt that must be addressed,” Shimkus said in a statement. “I have voted twice for equal cuts that would replace the sequester in a more deliberate manner. We don’t know for a fact what the real impact will be to airports and if control towers will even be closed. But it’s time for the President to stop campaigning and come to the table to talk about truly addressing the debt.”

    Said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Springfield, “When sequestration takes effect on Friday, we will have to face serious questions about what the quality and quantity of air service will look like over the next few months especially in Southern Illinois. In Congress, we need to come together – House and Senate, Democrat and Republican – and agree on a more balanced and sensible approach.”