Lipinski: Midway tower shouldn't be closed overnight
U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski asked the Federal Aviation Administration on Monday to justify its decision to include Midway Airport on a list of air-traffic control towers that potentially would close during overnight hours because of the federal budget cuts mandated under sequestration.
The Illinois Democrat, whose district includes Midway, sent a letter Monday to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta expressing "strong opposition" to the possible overnight closing of the control tower at the Southwest Side airport.
He asked Huerta to explain why the 25th-busiest U.S. airport was placed on the potential overnight closing list.
Lipinski, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Aviation Subcommittee, also requested an assessment of the local and national impact of such a move and the time frame for the FAA to make a final decision.
"Given the importance of Midway to the region and our country, I strongly oppose the potential overnight closure of its air-traffic control tower," the congressman wrote. He urged the FAA to take "a closer look at the problems an overnight tower closure at Midway would cause."
Last Friday, the FAA said it was delaying until mid-June the closing of 149 control towers at mostly smaller airports. Those air-traffic facilities are staffed by private contractors hired by the FAA. The contract towers had been scheduled to start closing Sunday.
Midway is among other airports whose FAA-staffed towers face reduced hours. These airports aren't likely to be affected until well after June.
The potential closings were part of $637 million in FAA budget cuts required under the sequester order for all federal agencies to reduce spending.
Midway controllers are FAA employees and members of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. The FAA said it must give 12 months' notice to the union to implement most contractual changes. Negotiations with the union have not started yet, said an FAA official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The official added that there are no plans for imminent closings of FAA-run towers.
Southwest Airlines, the dominant carrier serving Midway, generally completes its daily flight schedule by about midnight at the airport. But operations often run later in bad weather, officials said.
FAA officials said Midway could remain open to pilots as a non-tower-controlled airport if the overnight closings are implemented. Under such conditions, pilots use their radios to communicate with other pilots in the airspace and on the airfield.
Southwest did not respond to a Tribune inquiry asking whether it would operate at Midway without air-traffic control at the airport.
And the Chicago Department of Aviation also has not decided whether it would shut Midway to traffic in case of an overnight-tower closing by the FAA.
"We agree with congressman Lipinski that Midway's tower should not be closed," said Gregg Cunningham, an aviation department spokesman. "That said, no decision on whether to close the airport if the tower is closed has been made yet."
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