Decatur, Bloomington Airport Directors Reflect on Tower Closures
By Jim Meadows and Charlie Schlenker
Decatur Airport is about two weeks away from losing its air traffic control workers as a result of federal sequester cuts, and the Airport's director says he is confident that flight safety won't be comprised.
Decatur is one of 149 airports across the country where the FAA last week announced plans to stop paying contract air traffic control workers, due to sequestration cuts.
Airport Director Joe Attwood said Decatur Airport handles about 30 flights a day. He said the loss of their air traffic control tower staff will impact airport operations, but not flight safety.
"There are several hundreds of airports, if not thousands, in the United States, which operate without any control towers, and they do so safely," Attwood said.
Attwood said Decatur's airport will continue to operate by having pilots coordinate their takeoffs and landings among themselves --- as is done at many small airports. He said the only other option would be to pay the air traffic control workers themselves.
“The opportunity is present to self-fund the operation, and we’re looking at all the options related to that,” Attwood said. “But on the other hand, that is a $400,000 to $600,000 expense, and one that we’re not prepared at this point to agree to undertake.”
Meanwhile, the Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington is also on the list to lose FAA funding for control tower workers. The airport in Bloomington is a contract tower, and not a federally run operation.
Airport Director Carl Olson criticizes the federal cuts, saying they threaten aviation safety nationwide without addressing wasteful spending.
“Contract air traffic control towers in the United States are the most cost effective way of providing air traffic control services that there are without touching or sacrificing one measure of safety,” Olsen said.
City leaders in Bloomington have said if they are asked to contribute toward tower operations, they expect elected officials in the metro area would give that request very serious consideration. State Farm Insurance last week said it is ready to help maintain service.
Bloomington Mayor Steve Stockton said he has yet to see a detailed proposal and discussions have been preliminary. Airport officials plan to brief community leaders and airport stakeholders on Tuesday morning about their plans.