Control tower at the Gary Chicago International Airport Monday Feb. 25, 2013. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
Control tower at the Gary Chicago International Airport Monday Feb. 25, 2013. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
Post-Tribune Staff and Wire Reports

The closing of the Gary/Chicago International Airport control tower and 148 others around the country have been postponed until June.

The closures, expected to begin this weekend because of government-wide spending cuts, are being delayed until June 15, federal regulators announced Friday.

Gary’s interim director, Steven Landry, said Friday he was pleased with the news that the control tower operations are extended for two more months.

The extension, however, doesn’t have any effect on the airport’s passenger service through Allegiant Air, because the company had already decided to schedule flights despite the closure. As it did in the fall when business to Florida is traditionally slow, Allegiant had announced a hiatus in service beginning next week.

“It had nothing to do with the control tower,” Landry said.

The Federal Aviation Administration said it needs more time to deal with legal challenges to the closures.

Also, about 50 airport authorities and other “stakeholders” have indicated they want to fund the operations of the towers themselves rather than see them shut down, and more time will be needed to work out those plans, the agency said in a statement.

Landry said he is looking at “all options to keep the tower open,” including efforts to identify local money for the airport.

The first 24 tower closures were scheduled to begin Sunday, with the rest coming over the next few weeks. Obama administration officials have said the closures are necessary to accomplish government-wide automatic spending cuts required by Congress.

Despite the delay, the FAA said all 149 of the airport towers, which are operated by private contractors for the agency, will be shut down or turned over to local authorities on June 15. The new schedule is to implement the shutdowns at once, rather than a gradual phase-in as had been planned.

The U.S. Contract Tower Association, which represents the companies that operate contract towers, has challenged the closures in federal court. “The administration has decided to make tower closures the poster child of sequestration (automatic spending cuts),” said the group’s director, J. Spencer Dickerson. “We believe there are other ways they could have skinned this cat.”

Federal officials have insisted that the closures wouldn’t affect safety.

Of the nation’s 5,000 public airports, only about 10 percent have control towers.

Next week, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan. and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., plan to introduce a bill to require the FAA to resume operations at the 24 towers that were scheduled for closure on Sunday and to prohibit the agency from shutting down any more towers after that.