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Article updated: 3/27/2013 5:42 PM

Waukegan wants to reverse tower closure

By Marni Pyke

Waukegan Regional Airport has bought some weeks before the FAA closes its air-traffic control tower and stakeholders plan to use the time to fight back.

Waukegan's is among 149 federal contract towers slated to be shut down because of government cutbacks triggered by the so-called sequester. The original date for funding to dry up at the facility was April 7. but it's been pushed back to May 5.

That gives airport operators and tenants a chance to petition the Federal Aviation Administration to change course among other options, Airport Manager Jim Stanczak said.

A meeting is scheduled for Tuesday where concerned parties will brainstorm solutions to avoid a worst-case scenario -- a collision at the busy airport.

About 50,000 flight operations a year occur at Waukegan -- more than 136 daily. "We've got stuff coming and going all the time," Stanczak said. Letting pilots land or depart without controllers is "jeopardizing safety and encouraging inefficient operations," he added.

Stanczak said he's been talking to Sens. Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin and is hopeful the cuts can be avoided.

In addition to the petition, airport stakeholders might consider pooling their resources to pay for controllers out of their own pockets because the concerns over safety are so serious, Stanczak said.

Contract towers operate under Federal Aviation Administration rules, and the FAA hires private contractors to operate them.

Towers at regional airports in Bloomington and Decatur are also set to lose funding May 5.

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