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Article updated: 5/6/2013 6:05 PM

Schneider among lawmakers pushing FAA to spare control towers

By Marni Pyke

Democrat Brad Schneider and Tea Party star Michele Bachmann are light years apart politically but the two found common ground on the issue of funding for air traffic control towers.

The Deerfield Democrat and Minnesota Republican were among 83 congressional representatives who wrote Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood asking the government to snap out of its indecision about the fate of 149 control towers at smaller airports, including Waukegan Regional Airport.

A June 15 deadline looms over the 149 towers, which are operated by contractors. The Federal Aviation Administration will pull funding to pay for controllers, forcing the shutdown of the towers as part of budget cuts known as the sequester.

Congress in April enacted legislation freeing up $253 million in the FAA's budget to end furloughs for controllers. There's enough money available to save the contract towers, Schneider thinks, but the FAA is still mulling over the issue.

Staffed towers are essential for "helping pilots and their crews safely guide their aircraft between airports. Maintaining service at all contract air towers is intrinsic to the authority granted in this law to ensure a safe and efficient air transportation system," the members of Congress wrote Thursday.

The Waukegan airport handles 50,000 operations a year. Its managers say it's far too busy of an airfield for pilots to take off and land without assistance.

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, a Highland Park Republican, also wrote a letter last week to the FAA urging the agency to restore funding.

Contract towers operate under FAA rules but are staffed by private contractors paid for by the government.

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