Illinois Public Media News
President Barack Obama is praising a bipartisan deal that will end the partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration and get thousands of workers back on the job.
Obama says the nation "can't afford to let politics in Washington hamper our recovery.''
He says he's pleased to see leaders in Congress working together to settle the issue.
The FAA flap has become another embarrassment for the federal government.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced a deal to extend the FAA's operating authority through mid-September. Under the plan, the Senate will approve a House bill that includes a contentious provision cutting $16.5 million in subsidies for rural communities. Democrats say the administration will use authority under the deal to waive those cuts.
Bids will be opened this Friday from contractors competing for a construction project at Willard Airport near Champaign, but any actual work will have to wait until Congress agrees on temporary financing for the Federal Aviation Administration.
The FAA has been partially shut down since July 23. Congress took its August recess without resolving a dispute over the FAA, and won't be back in Washington until after Labor Day.
Willard Airport Director Steve Wanzek said he will work with the Illinois Department of Transportation's Division of Aeronautics to complete the necessary paperwork at the state and local level - in the hope that Congress will act quickly enough to allow the FAA to approve the project in September.
"We'll do all the paperwork, get all the grant application, all of that stuff through the state," Wanzek said. "You know, that takes a couple of weeks anyway. So we may lose a week or two --- assuming that if they (Congress) met on Labor Day, after Labor Day and take this on --- you know, something approved --- we would be able to be issued a grant fairly quickly."
Meanwhile, the Decatur Airport has already received federal funding for an upcoming ramp rehabilitation project, according to airport director Joe Atwood. He said FAA's partial shutdown will not prevent that project from going forward. But he said he will be watching activity in Washington when Congress returns in September
Atwood will also be keeping an eye on what Congress decides to do about the Essential Air Service program, which helps underwrite air passenger service at the Decatur Airport. Efforts in the Senate to restore FAA funding broke down Tuesday over a GOP proposal to cut money for that program.
The Essential Air Service program provides money to help airports in small cities attract and keep air service. The Decatur Airport is funded by the program, as are airports in Quincy and Marion.
Atwood said it is strange that the program is being debated now, because its funding isn't part of the federal budget.
"The money comes from the Aviation Trust Fund, and it doesn't affect the General Treasury," Atwood said. "It's not a general Treasury budget item. So even if they eliminate the program, they don't effectively eliminate the resulted expense from the treasury. They can cut the program out, they still haven't saved anything."
Atwood stresses that the debate in Congress over Essential Air Service funding is about the program as a whole, and doesn't focus on the Decatur Airport in particular.
The partial shutdown at the FAA does not affect air traffic controllers.
Both Atwood at the Decatur Airport and Wanzek at Willard Airport say their day-to-day operations will continue as usual.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn will not say whether he thinks the state tollway should increase rates.
The Illinois Tollway says the plan is necessary to pay for a $12 billion project to repair and expand Chicago-area expressways. When pressed by reporters, Quinn refused to take a stand on the issue.
"We're going to let the whole process take forward," Quinn said. "The Tollway has a board; they're going to have public hearings, and I think that's a healthy thing, to have the public have a chance to speak."
The Tollway Board is scheduled to vote on a plan by Aug. 25. If it passed, toll hikes would take effect starting next year. Officials said the proposed increase would probably be between 40 to 75 cents.
U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk are questioning airline fare increases after a ticket tax holiday was created by the partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration.
The two Illinois senators have sent a letter to the head of the Air Transport Association asking why most carriers aren't passing the savings along to customers.
Other senators also are putting pressure on the carriers about the fare increases, and so is U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
The FAA shutdown eliminated the airlines' authority to collect ticket taxes, which funds the FAA and airport construction. But nearly all carriers raised fares equal to the taxes.
Kirk, a Republican, and Durbin, a Democrat, say they worry the recent price increase is "a collective effort to take advantage of federal inaction.
Informal talks continue that may allow Parkland College to take over the University of Illinois' Institute of Aviation in three years.
The U of I's Board of Trustees voted last week to shut it down, once current students complete the program in 2014. The Institute's Interim Director, Tom Emanuel, met Wednesday with Interim Chancellor Robert Easter for what he calls a preliminary conversation.
Emanuel said the next step is for administrators at both schools to meet, and see if Parkland's finances will allow such a transfer. Those meetings likely will not happen until the fall semester starts. But Emanuel said Parkland could offer courses in addition to flight training.
"I do know Parkland has some interest in looking at a broader aviation program that would include maybe some other things, even conceivably, something with aviation mechanics... I just heard that through the grapevine literally," Emanuel said. "But it makes sense. Aviation is the second largest money producer in the state of Illinois after agriculture."
Easter said he holds out hope that flight training would have a future locally beyond 2014.
"Having a quality program locally available for students coming to the University of Illinois with an interest in learning flying skills," he said. "Proceeding to certification (with Parkland) would be a real plus. And so our interest is if there's a way we can facilitate that, as I told the Board (of Trustees) last week, we will do that."
Easter called last Thursday's decision to close the Institute one of the tougher days in his role of administrator, but said it was the right one to allow for the growth of other programs on the Urbana campus. Administrators say closing Aviation would save $750,000 in a program suffering from declining enrollment.
Emanuel said any arrangement with Parkland would have to be done on smaller scale, since Parkland is a two-year institution and doesn't have the authority to offer a baccalaureate degree. And Emanuel said the Institute's aircraft belong to the U of I's Board of Trustees, and cannot be transferred to a community college. But Emanuel said he believes some arrangement could be made for Parkland to use the planes if everything else falls into place.
The city of Champaign is looking to give some motorists another option for those who don't have change for the parking meter.
City council members Tuesday will be asked to give preliminary approval for a test run of 'smart meters' downtown. The first 37 of them, which accept debit and credit cards, would be installed in the 100 block of North Walnut Street, and on Chester Street between Neil and Market Streets.
Patti Anderson is a management analyst with Champaign's Public Works Department. She says the meters should boost city revenue, but also cut down on parking tickets.
"You can expect to see parking violations decrease because people are more inclined, with the credit card, to put in the full amount for the time limit," said Anderson. "And so, that way you need more revenue generated because they put more money in in the first place, but you do see a decrease in parking fines."
The city is planning a six-month trial for the first meters to see how colder weather affects them. Champaign may then purchase those meters, install about 30 more north of the trial area, and 100 additional ones in the easternmost portion of Campustown.
The city council meets in a study session starting at 7 p.m. Tuesday. But even if they're finalized next week, city staff says it could be a while before the meters are actually in place, since Champaign first has to set up a schedule with a vendor for installing them.
The University of Illinois and city of Urbana are also exploring the use of smart meters.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)
The three victims of a fiery plane crash in Rantoul have been identified.
Fifty-six-year-old Jon Buerkett, his wife, 47-year-old Dana Buerkett, and their daughter, 19-year-old Morgan Buerkett, all of Champaign, were killed Sunday when the single-engine plane crashed shortly after takeoff from Rantoul Airport.
A preliminary autopsy conducted late Monday by Champaign County Coroner Duane Northup indicates all three family members died from blunt force trauma.
Rantoul Police Chief Paul Farber says severe weather was rolling into the area at the time of the crash. The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash.
Tom Fiedler, a friend of Jon Buerkett, said Monday they were co-owners of Melody Music in Champaign, a coin-operated music and equipment company. Dana Buerkett owned her own marketing business and Morgan Buerkett was a University of Chicago student.
Gov. Mitch Daniels has asked President Barack Obama to add Vermillion and Wayne counties to 32 counties approved for a federal disaster declaration last month.
If Monday's request is approved, state and local governments and certain non-profit organizations in the two additional counties would be eligible to apply for federal aid to pay 75 percent of the approved cost of debris removal, emergency services and repairing damaged public facilities such as roads and buildings.
The disaster declaration Obama issued last month covers damage from flooding, tornados and straight-line winds between April 19 and June 6.
Wayne County is along the Ohio state line and Vermillion is along the Illinois state line.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)
Thousands of contractors have been ordered to stop work on airport construction projects. Meanwhile, Illinois lawmakers continue to disagree over legislation needed to put those workers back to work.
The Federal Aviation Administration's operating authority expired Friday night - after the House and Senate couldn't agree on a bill to extend it.
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) said he tried to pass a temporary version of the bill - but Republicans objected.
"This political brinkmanship may be somebody's idea of a victory," Durbin said. "It's my idea of a defeat for workers across America and for the maintenance and the construction of new airport facilities."
But Illinois Republican Congressman Randy Hultgren said his chamber is being proactive - passing a plan that Senate Democrats don't support.
"What they're doing is they're just kicking the can down the road another couple months each time that this happens," Hultgren said.
The modernization program at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport is not expected to be affected by the work stoppage yet. But according to the FAA, the $1.5 million re-paving of a parking lot there will not happen until Congress reaches an agreement.
Meanwhile, the manager of Champaign-Urbana's Willard Airport said a construction project slated to start this fall at his airport could be affected if the partial shutdown at the FAA continues.
Willard manager Rick Wanzek said the project to widen part of an airport taxiway is to be bid in August.
"If they're not back to operating, and if they haven't released funds for a grant, then that would delay the project," he said. "That would be a significant impact that - we wouldn't get a project done this year that we were hoping to get done."
But Wanzek said air traffic controllers are exempt from the shutdown at the FAA, which means flights can continue as usual. An FAA spokesman said investigators are still on the job --- including those taking part in the investigation of Sunday's fatal crash of a single-engine plane at the Rantoul Airport.
(AP Photo/Jim Prisching, File)
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
The names of three people who died in a fiery plane crash Sunday in central Illinois have been released.
Rantoul police have not released the names of the people on the plane, but multiple news reports cite a family member who identified the victims as Champaign residents Jon Buerkett, 56; his wife, Dana Buerkett, 47; and their daughter, Morgan Buerkett, 19.
According to an official with the Federal Aviation Administration, the single-engine Piper PA 46 airplane went down shortly after takeoff at the Rantoul Airport about 125 miles southwest of Chicago. Agency spokesman Roland Herwig said federal authorities were notified of the crash before 10 a.m. Sunday, and that the plane was destroyed by fire.
Rantoul Police Chief Paul Farber said severe weather was rolling into the area at the time of the crash.
The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash.
Autopsies are scheduled Monday, according to Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup.
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