Sequestration to affect local airports

By Alyssa Donovan

February 25, 2013 Updated Feb 26, 2013 at 10:39 AM CDT

PEORIA, Ill.-- Airports around the country, including here in Central Illinois, are preparing for how they will be affected by sequestration.

It turns out the sky is not the limit when it comes to budget cuts.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced Friday that the Federal Aviation Administration will be making cuts to reduce expenditures by nearly $600 million this fiscal year. That is if the across-the-board spending cuts go into effect this Friday.

"To likely close more than 100 air traffic control towers with fewer than 150,000 flight operations per year," said LaHood.

That includes Bloomington's Central Illinois Regional Airport (CIRA).

Peoria International Airport's tower is one of 60 that will be scaled back to part-time operation.

Director of Airports, Gene Olson said that these changes will not affect passengers or flights and just because a tower is closed does not mean an airliner can't take off or land.

"What happens is there's a radio frequency that the tower uses and that becomes what we call a common traffic advisory frequency and the airplanes basically talk to each other on the radio and tell each other where they are and then separate themselves," said Olson.

In a statement released Monday, CIRA executive Director Carl Olson said "There are many airports across the country whose air traffic control tower closures would have less impact on the state and U.S. Economy."

He also said that he is "requesting resolution to the issue".

Although passengers would not be directly affect by the change, the cuts do mean more responsibility for the pilots in the air.

American Airlines Pilot, Captain Garry Shipman said having an air traffic control tower is an extra step of protection that is really appreciated by the pilots. Without the tower, he said, a pilot needs to be a lot more observant.

"You have to be a little more on top of your game, there are more things to look out for when you don't have a control tower in operation, said Shipman. "Everything is up to you which we're trained for that, but it's nice to have that level of protection."

The exact date that pink slips will be handed out to employees is yet to be determined.

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