Re-elect Dan Lipinski Congressman

New FAA Measure Clears the Path for Lewis Control Tower

10/09/2018

Daily Southtown

Lewis University Airport may have one less obstacle in its path to build an air traffic control tower now that President Donald Trump has signed a five-year reauthorization bill of the Federal Aviation Administration, officials said.

The $96 billion measure signed last week included an amendment by Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Western Springs, that would allow smaller airports like Lewis to apply for grants from the Small Airport Fund to construct control towers, according to Lipinski’s office.

“It’s exciting,” airport director Chris Lawson said. “We’ve been working on this for 10 years. We’re getting closer.”

The 1,000-acre airport in Romeoville is owned and operated by the Joliet Regional Port District, and handles more than 100,000 arrivals and departures annually, according to Lipinski. It is designated as a reliever airport for O’Hare and Midway, and is one of the top five busiest airports in the state, according to officials.

Lipinski’s amendment is a “major step forward in helping Lewis University Airport find the funding we need to construct a much-needed air traffic control tower,” said David Silverman, chairman of the port district board.

Airport officials have completed an air traffic control tower study, selected a preferred site on the grounds, and estimated it would cost $6 million to build. Engineers are now fine-tuning those numbers, Lawson said.

The federal grant would cover 90 percent of the cost, and that is the only way it will get built, Lawson said.

“This is not a pork barrel project,” he said.

The port district would have to do some “innovative financing” without the grant, which would “really stretch it thin” given that it operates the airport without a tax levy, Lawson said.

The FAA has agreed to staff the tower once it is built, he said.

According to cost/benefit analyses, the airport more than meets FAA criteria for a tower, but when it comes to funding, buildings, such as a tower, are a “low priority,” he said.

“We need to update the national priority ranking system and include traffic control towers as a safety-related issue. Right now, it has as much significance as snow removal,” Lawson said. “I can’t wait to get that fight going. How can a traffic control tower not be safety related?”

In these legislative battles, Lawson said he has relied on Lipinski, and the Illinois delegation in Washington D.C., and even Will County officials, who have pleaded Lewis Airport’s case with FAA officials in recent years.

“It’s nice to have everyone pulling in the same direction,” he said.

The tower would not only help the university and businesses that use it, but it would open the doors to economic development, Lawson said.

“Small airports play an essential role in America’s aviation system and these airports can play an even bigger role if more are equipped with air traffic control towers. That is why I offered an amendment to the FAA reauthorization bill,” Lipinski said in a news release.

“This will help ensure that our airspace remains the gold standard for safety by helping small airports currently operating without towers to invest in this infrastructure. This would not only mean economic development around these smaller airports, but would relieve congestion at larger airports,” he said.

Arthur Jones, Lipinski’s Republican opponent who was a member of the American Nazi party in the 1980s, said he would support the use of federal money for a control tower.

“I can’t believe there is an airport without a control tower,” he said.


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