Spending Plan Funds Airports and Air Towers

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By Stephanie Tyrpak
By Randy Livingston

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS -- President Obama signed a $1.1 trillion budget deal into law Friday. It sends money to many different agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration. That's good news for local airports that have spent months worried about cuts.

Essential Air Service, like Cape Air in Marion, was under a lot of scrutiny a couple years ago. Since April, funding for local air traffic control towers has been up for debate. The bill sets aside money for both of those programs for at least the next nine months. 
 
More than $250 million has been approved for Essential Air Service.
     
"It shows the enormity of what it takes to maintain air service in smaller markets like this," said Williamson County Regional Airport Director Doug Kimmel. 
 
Williamson County Airport receives about $2 million total, or about $100 per passenger, for the daily flights through Cape Air. More and more people are buying tickets.
 
"Their total traffic numbers for us last year were a little over 20,000," said Kimmel.
 
Kimmel believes they're one of the programs success stories. The high number of boardings has also opened up new opportunities to get money from grants.
 
"In our case, put us back into the status of being able to pursue a project that we had been planning for years and years, which is construction of a new airline terminal," said Kimmel. 
 
The legislation also sets aside about $140 million dollars to run air traffic control towers, like the tower in Marion and the one at Southern Illinois Airport.
 
That's welcome news for the SIU Aviation Program that depends on the tower in Murphysboro. 
 
"I think up until this point we've been talking about trying to come up with the money locally to pay for this tower," said Department Chair Dave Newmyer. 
    
Newmyer feels the tower is an issue of safety and talking to the air traffic controllers gives students better training.
 
"We estimated would cost somewhere between $250,000 to $300,000 for us to run," said Newmyer. 
 
Flight school is already an expensive program.
 
"Over the course of their four years, they have to pay $60,000 more," said Newmyer. 
 
Without the funding, Newmyer feared the student fees would be even higher. That would push them closer to the prices seen at other schools.
 
"We have a competitive cost advantage," said Newmyer. "But we don't want to lose it."
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