FAA To Close 5 Illinois Air Control Towers, Pilots Will Now Coordinate Landings

By Amy Cavanaugh in News on Mar 24, 2013 8:00PM

On Friday, the Federal Aviation Administration released a list of the air traffic control facilities around the country that it will be closing in an effort to cut millions from its budget due to sequestration. Five Illinois airports will be affected: St. Louis Regional Airport in Alton, Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington, Decatur Airport in Decatur, Southern Illinois Airport in Murphysboro, and Waukegan Regional Airport in Waukegan. Gary/Chicago International Airport in Gary, Indiana will also be affected. The tower shut downs are all at airports that have fewer than 150,000 total flight operations, and fewer than 10,000 commercial flights by passenger airlines, each year.

What does this mean? Airports won't be shutting down, but pilots will now have to coordinate takeoffs and landings by themselves over a shared radio frequency.

Airport directors, pilots and others in the aviation sector have argued that stripping away an extra layer of safety during the most critical stages of flight will elevate risks and at the very least slow years of progress in making the U.S. aviation network the safest in the world.

Airlines have yet to say whether they will continue offering service to airports that lose tower staff. Any scaling back of passenger service could have major economic impact for communities.

Mark Hanna, director of the Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport in Springfield, Ill., says without ground controllers as backup the risk to operate "goes up exponentially," especially at airports like his, which have such a broad mix of aircraft types: everything from privately operated Piper Cubs to the larger passenger planes of United and American airlines.

The AP reported that the FAA is also still trying to decide whether to eliminate overnight shifts at 72 air traffic facilities, including Midway. Since Midway is not a "federal contract tower, an overnight tower closure at Midway would require the FAA to negotiate with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association."