The Bloomington-Normal Airport Authority has remained adament that the tower will not close. (photo by Zach Dietmeier/WJBC)
By Zach Dietmeier
BLOOMINGTON - The Central Illinois Regional Airport isn't waiting for an expected Federal Aviation Administration withdrawal from its air traffic control tower.
The Bloomington-Normal Airport Authority has filed for a judicial review in U.S. District Court against the FAA to find whether or not the organization complied with statutes in closing 149 control towers nationwide - including CIRA's.
"This is unprecedented," CIRA Executive Director Carl Olson said. "The FAA has never taken this action before. Changes will have to be made to airspace, operation requirements for communities, airports, airlines, and aviators. Some of this is simply step-by-step and we're just waiting for those steps to happen."
The airport wants a stay of action until the court can determine if all other routes to avoid cutting the tower were taken. The airport is being represented by Spiegel and McDiarmid in Washington D.C.
"Not only because of the loss of funding that is being proposed but because of the matter in which it is being done, we are asserting that the closing is not in compliance with federal statutes and the FAA's own internal orders," Olson said.
Six air traffic controllers will be affected but the members of the Airport Authority board were adament the tower will stay open. The airport is already working on a new contract to keep the current employees in place. Six airports out of the 149 on the list of sequestration cuts nationwide are individually taking legal action against the FAA.
According to Olson, CIRA has been in close communication with the airlines serviced out of Bloomington-Normal, and he added that they are prepared even if the worst case scenario of no tower were to occur.
"They will continue to operate here and they are very comfortable and they are experienced operating in uncontrolled airports," Olson said. "Not having air traffic control service on site wouldn't be a catastrophic diminishment of safety because it's actually quite common. It's simply not the level of safety and efficiency we'd like to provide to our customers."
Without an air traffic control tower, CIRA would lose its designation as one of six airports in the Midwest with a Category 2 approach. The low altitude approach allows planes to land in emergency weather and mechanical situations and is the only such option in downstate Illinois. The others include O'Hare in Chicago, Rockford, Fort Wayne and Indianapolis in Indiana, and Milwaukee in Wisconsin.
Olson said patrons can expect to see nothing change.
"The tower will continue to remain open and the airport will continue to remain open and it's going to continue to be a safe and effective airport that the community is used to," Olson said. "If you were to fly out before the shift and return after you'd feel the same safety as you would flying out today."
CIRA's tower is slated to close in the final round of shutdowns on May 5.