The Waukegan Regional Airport is getting a reprieve on the fate of its control tower, but whether the airport ultimately will keep its air traffic controllers remains in question.
Budget cuts resulting from the so-called sequester are poised to end funding for towers operated by private contractors at 149 smaller airports across the country. Waukegan's tower was set to close Sunday but the date's been pushed back to June 15.
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A recent bipartisan agreement by Congress to free up $253 million in Federal Aviation Administration revenues to end controller furloughs includes sufficient dollars to keep contract towers open.
Airport manager Jim Stanczak said he's waiting for word from the Federal Aviation Administration. Muddying the waters is the fact two Maryland senators put out a news release praising the Obama administration for keeping the towers open last week.
"I'm sitting here trying to think of contingency plans," Stanczak said. "I wish I had confirmation -- I could sleep better."
With 50,000 flights a year operating out of the airfield, which serves numerous corporate clients, Waukegan Regional Airport is too busy to run unstaffed without risking an accident, Stanczak said.
Contract towers operate under FAA rules but with private contractors paid by the government.
Officials estimate it would cost about $50 million to keep the 149 towers open. The FAA has discretion as to how it allocates the $253 million, officials said.