NEW INFORMATION: Milwaukee airport's control tower could lose staff

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MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Due to federal budget cuts, airport control towers could go dark overnight in Milwaukee or close altogether at eight regional Wisconsin airports.

The Federal Aviation Administration says overnight air-traffic control shifts could be eliminated at Milwaukee's General Mitchell International Airport. The control towers could close outright at smaller airports in Eau Claire, Janesville, Kenosha, La Crosse, Milwaukee, Mosinee, Oshkosh and Waukesha.

Airport officials have until Wednesday to make their cases to be kept open. The FAA will issue a final closure list on March 18. The closures would begin about April 7, unless negotiations in Washington head off the cuts.

If the towers are unstaffed, pilots would have to coordinate takeoffs and landings themselves via radio and visual contact, as they do now at night when towers aren't open.
EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) – The deadline for the sequester looms large with just days to go and billions of dollars on the chopping block.

Lawmakers in Washington, D.C. have until March 1 to work out a deal, or else a large set of cuts, dubbed the “sequester” will go into effect.

Here in the Chippewa Valley, the budget cuts are set to have a big impact on meal programs for the elderly and our airport.

James Heaps has been getting Meals on Wheels delivered to his Eau Claire home for five years.

“The meals are good and very good for my wife. We're both diabetics so it's a good thing,” Heaps said.

But he's concerned to hear the sequester means a cut of more than $600,000 for the program in Wisconsin.

“It's something that's needed for handicapped people and people that can't get out, elderly people more so than me,” Heaps said.

Less funding leads to fewer meals.

So the Eau Claire County Meals on Wheels program is already coming up with possible fixes.

“The last thing we want to do is cut the meals. We just met last week with some individuals and talked about how we can approach businesses in our community on how we can receive funding for the meals so we can continue doing what we're doing,” said Ruth Kilness of the Eau Claire County Aging and Disability Resource Center.

She said the program provides important social contact for those getting meals.

“For many of the people this is half of their nutrition for one day,” Kilness said.

They're the ones that watch the skies, making sure flights get in and out safely.

But due to sequester cuts from the Federal Aviation Administration, the five air traffic controllers at the Chippewa Valley Regional Airport could also get the ax.

“The tower opened in 2006. The airport has been open since the 1940s and operated without an air traffic control tower. We would continue to have operations and airline traffic and continue business as usual,” said Airport Manager Charity Speich.

The airport said it will talk to the FAA to figure out if the tower actually needs to be shutdown.

“There's definitely a safety impact, there's an enhanced level of safety with having an air traffic control tower on site and definitely there would be some negative impacts relating to that,” Speich said.

WEAU spoke to U.S. Rep. Ron Kind about this on the phone Monday afternoon.

The democratic congressman said these will be serious cuts and worries about the economic impact they will have.

Kind hopes a deal can be ironed out this week.

Republican U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy told WSAW Monday morning that he would like to see government spending slashed but not on necessary services people rely on.

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