Sen. Durbin: Feds rescind decision to layoff air traffic controllers

News-DemocratMay 10, 2013 

— The U.S. Department of Transportation confirmed Friday that control towers at five Illinois airports, including St. Louis Regional Airport, in Bethalto, and Southern Illinois Airport, in Carbondale, will remain open.

The control towers previously had been scheduled to close June 15 because of the impact of mandatory spending cuts known as sequestration, which began March 1.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Springfield, announced the department's decision to keep the towers open in an email to news media organizations Friday afternoon.

Last month, Congress passed legislation to redistribute funding and avoid the most high-profile impact of sequestration -- air-traffic controller furloughs.

"We fight for air service in downstate Illinois and closing the contract towers would have, at a minimum, slowed down flights to five airports," Durbin stated in a press release. "I worked with Secretary (Ray) LaHood and the White House to avoid this unfortunate impact of sequestration and appreciate this positive response."

Responding to an outpouring of complaints about delays at major airports around the country caused by controller furloughs that began in late April, Congress passed a bill that gives the Federal Aviation Administration -- which falls under the Transportation Department's jurisdiction -- power to move $253 million to end the furloughs and avert the layoffs of contract controllers.

Unlike big city airports, where controllers work directly for the FAA, Bethalto and Carbondale airports rely on outside contract controllers, all of whom were slated by the FAA to be laid off beginning June 15, pending action by the president.

Even if its tower had closed, St. Louis Regional Airport, in Bethalto, had planned to remain open because pilots are trained to perform takeoffs and landings without control tower help.

Southern Illinois Airport's loss of a tower staff, however, would have jeopardized the aviation program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, which depends on airport tower staff to ensure a safe flight environment for 80 or so university aviation students each semester.

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