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Fed cuts could shut Ill. airport control towers

Published: Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

CHICAGO – Air traffic control towers could be shut down at nine Illinois airports, including in the state capital, if no deal is reached in Washington to avert federal spending cuts scheduled to take effect next month.

In preparation for cuts that would squeeze many government agencies, the Federal Aviation Administration is making plans to trim $600 million in spending for the rest of the fiscal year, leading transportation officials to warn of a multitude of travel disruptions.

The steps could include the closure of more than 100 air traffic control towers at smaller airports nationwide. The airfields still would be allowed to operate, but pilots using plane-to-plane radios would be left to coordinate landings and takeoffs among themselves with no assistance from ground controllers, according to the FAA.

The agency’s list of airports where towers would be closed identifies nine in Illinois, including Springfield, Bloomington-Normal, Decatur, Carbondale and St. Louis Regional Airport in East Alton, O’Hare International Airport was not on the list.

The listed airports have fewer than 150,000 flight operations a year.

In addition, overnight shifts at air traffic control facilities could be scrapped at three Illinois airports, including Chicago’s Midway.

The FAA said Friday that those and other changes would not compromise safety, although it warned of reduced efficiency. In particular, it said passengers flying to major cities such as New York, Chicago and San Francisco should expect delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours because fewer controllers will be on duty.

In addition to tower shutdowns, the FAA is considering employee furloughs and a reduction in preventive maintenance.

If no budget deal is reached, the spending cuts would automatically take effect March 1. The FAA changes would begin in April and continue through the end of the fiscal year in September.

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