CHICAGO (AP) -

The planned shutdown of as many as 238 air traffic control towers across the country under federal budget cuts will strip away an extra layer of safety during takeoffs and landings, leaving pilots to manage the most critical stages of flight on their own.

The towers slated to close are at smaller airports with lighter traffic. But airport directors and pilots say the move increases risk and will slow the progress that has made the U.S. air system the safest in the world.

It's not just private pilots in small planes who stand to be affected. Many of the airports are serviced by major airlines. The cuts could also leave towers unmanned during overnight hours in some big cities such as Chicago and Milwaukee.