Gary airport control tower to stay open through September
By Carrie Napoleon Post-Tribune correspondent May 10, 2013 7:22PM
Updated: June 13, 2013 6:57PM
GARY — The air traffic control tower at Gary/Chicago International Airport will remain open through September.
Steve Landry, interim airport director, said he received the welcome news Friday morning as City of Gary and Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority officials dedicated the new $11.6 million Airport Road overpass that is a key component to a runway expansion that will be completed later this year.
“I was notified via email by the FAA that all 149 contract towers that were slated for closure will be funded through fiscal year 2013,” Landry said.
Gary is among low-traffic airports slated for closure June 15 as a result of the federal sequester — a series of severe across-the-board budget cuts triggered when Congress earlier this year failed to agree on a deficit-reduction plan. Those airports now will remain open through Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year.
After Congress hastily passed a stop-gap bill last month, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood determined there will be enough extra money to keep the towers open. The bill gave the FAA authority to shift up to $253 million from accounts with unspent funds to prevent further furloughs of air traffic controllers. The furloughs at all airport towers and air traffic control facilities caused widespread flight delays across the country for nearly a week before Congress stepped in.
Delays and inefficiency were among Landry’s chief concerns for the local airport. The runway expansion is expected to be a driver for carrier expansion at the airport.
“I believed that the efficiency of airport operations would be degraded due to the tower closure. Obviously, with the control tower staying open, I don’t have that concern anymore,” Landry said.
The control tower also provides an added layer of safety at the airport that will not be lost — for now. Landry said officials will be watching closely what transpires in Washington in the coming months and looking into the airport’s options for funding the approximately $500,000 annual cost of operating the tower.
“We have the option of funding the control tower controllers with local funds. I do not have that in my budget now,” Landry said.
Lack of a tower could hinder future business at the airport as well. Having the ability to say the airport has its own control tower is a selling point to potential air carriers.
“If we don’t have it, it’s something we can’t say,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.