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Talk Resurfaces of Permanent Control Tower at Lewis University Airport in Romeoville

06/03/2015

 

The Herald-News

 

Long-discussed plans for a permanent control tower at Lewis University Airport have resurrected – but whether the estimated $6 million project will come to fruition is up in the air.

“There’s only so much federal and state funding for these types of projects. And we’re all fighting for it,” said Chris Lawson, director for the Joliet Regional Port District, which owns and operates the airport.

In addition to serving aviation students at Lewis University, the airport is a designated “reliever airport” for other Chicago region airports.

A permanent control tower would benefit the airport when it gets exceptionally busy, Lawson said, such as when NASCAR racing teams come to the Chicagoland Speedway.

Lawson said NASCAR brings in its own temporary control tower during those busier times, but a permanent control tower would make landings at the airport safer while attracting more commercial jets, serving as an economic boon to the region.

U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Western Springs, visited the airport Monday to talk about the need for capital improvements. As the senior member from Illinois on the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and a member of the Aviation Subcommittee, Lipinski said he’s made it a priority to bring a permanent control tower to Lewis University Airport.

With few federal and state dollars available for such projects, Lipinski said there’s a less expensive alternative – a control tower that is operated remotely.

Lipinski said cameras and other equipment would be on-site, but the controllers would work off-site and serve multiple smaller airports. It’s new technology, he said, and is part of a pilot program in its first year at an airport in Leesburg, Virginia.

Lawson said he has some reservations about a remote tower and isn’t giving up the fight for a permanent one. The remote tower remains part of a pilot program, he said, so there’s no telling whether the FAA ultimately will sign off.

The Joliet Regional Port District is conducting a site study to determine and justify the needs, Lawson said. He said he hopes to have the study completed within the next 90 days.

Bill Parrot, who heads up the university’s air traffic control program, said the lack of a control tower poses safety concerns because the runways at Lewis intersect, he said.

Pilots do not receive landing instructions from a central control tower at Lewis, but instead must communicate their intent to land via radio with other potential pilots entering the same controlled airspace.

Lawson said the addition of a second runway in 2004 heightened the airport’s need for a control tower. State, federal and local officials have talked about it ever since, he said.


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