Running an airport is a lot like raising a child. You must nurture it, provide it with the means to support itself, and protect it from those who would do it harm. And, just like raising a child, you often don’t know how successful all that hard work is until several years down the road.
Officials at DuPage County Airport (DPA) in Chicago received affirmation of their hard work June 9 when U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood visited to recognize the transformation of the airport into a model for regional airports.
A reliever for O’Hare and Midway, DPA is one of the busiest general aviation facilities in the country and the only GA airport in Illinois with a 24-hour FAA control tower.
It recently won praise from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for using “business principles” to upgrade services, pay off all debts, and cut the airport’s public subsidy by two thirds. The airport now turns a profit of about $2 million a year, according to officials.
PLANNING FOR GROWTH
DuPage Airport started to take shape in the 1920s when a couple of pilots built a grass runway. When World War II began, the United States Navy took over the property and turned it into a military airfield. Uncle Sam built two runways in an “X” pattern. In 1946 the airport was sold to DuPage County for $1.
Over the next few decades operations and business at the airport expanded and contracted, reflecting the area’s economic ups and downs.
By the 1980s it became clear that the growing West Chicago community and the airport would be at odds, so an airport authority was established to ensure that DPA would be protected from encroachment. Today the airport covers 2,800 acres, with much of the land covered by a golf course and industrial park.
The golf course serves several purposes, according to airport officials. The 18-hole Trent Jones Jr. golf course was developed in the 1990s to provide storm water drainage at the airfield, according to Dan Goodwin, chairman of the airport authority. Perhaps more importantly, the golf course is a compatible land use that acts as a buffer between the airport and the rest of the urban West Chicago community. It also is an additional source of revenue for the airport authority.
There are approximately 390 aircraft ranging from single-engine pistons to small jets based at DuPage. There also are 50 businesses based at the airport, with many more companies, including Fortune 500 firms such as Sears and McDonald’s, that rely on the airport.
“From a revenue standpoint our most important metric is fuel sales, and more than 90% of our fuel sales are Jet A, therefore, the corporate component of the traffic is extremely important,” said David Byrd, executive director of the airport authority. “However, in terms of aircraft operations, the majority of the traffic is probably general aviation because of the number of flight schools on the airport and the number of local training operations that result from flight training activity.”
At last count, there were seven schools and flying clubs at the airport. But despite the extensive flight training, DuPage Airport, like so many others, has been hit by the recession. In 2007 plans were in the works for the construction of new hangars, but the downturn in the economy reduced the demand for hangars, so those plans were put on hold, airport officials said.
However, says Goodwin, “We are in the third year of a program to refurbish existing hangars, which has greatly improved them aesthetically, structurally, and made them more marketable.”
With this attention to detail, it may seem to an outsider that DuPage Airport has made it, but airport officials said they are constantly looking for ways to improve the airport well into the future.
Geared toward those plans is the extension of the auxiliary runway from 5,100 feet to 6,400 feet, which will provide “operational flexibility in case the main runway is not available for use,” airport officials said, adding there are also plans to strengthen and widen the primary 7,570-foot runway from 100 feet to 150 feet.
For more information: DuPageAirport.com