Report says airport still valuable

DeKALB – DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport operates at a loss but still is valuable to the local economy, according to a state report.

A study from the Illinois Department of Transportation’s Division of Aeronautics states the airport contributes $10.7 million in economic activity and creates 81 full-time jobs in the area. Public Works Director T. J. Moore said the report accurately shows how the airport is a “multifaceted part of this community.”

“This is something we need to shout to the fences,” Moore said. “There’s always a lot said about the airport, and people have varying opinions on it, but the airport contributes enormously to the local community not in terms of economic impact, but in terms of jobs, in terms of recreation.”

The airport has not become a moneymaker for the city yet. The city received $114,000 this fiscal year since it became the airport’s fixed base operator. Moore said the city had acted as a landlord to the airport, but since fiscal 2012, it also runs the business side of the airport.

“In the very first full year, we doubled what we would have made otherwise. We’re expecting to make more,” Moore said.

But the city’s airport fund has an $83,000 deficit going into fiscal 2013, prompting the city to transfer $250,000 from its general revenue fund into the airport fund. Airport manager Tom Cleveland added that other municipally owned airports in the state are facing similar issues.

The city owns the airport, but Cleveland said at least 90 percent of funding for projects such as runway length expansions and environmental studies come from the federal government.

“That’s how our large projects get done, so the city only has to pay 2.5 percent on those projects, but starting next year, that will be 5 percent,” Cleveland said.

Moore said the city is working hard for the airport to become a “break-even proposition.”

The IDOT study measured the economic impact of the state’s 116 airports. DeKalb’s airport is one of the 105 general aviation airports; the other 11 are considered commercial airports. On a whole, the state’s airports have contributed to more than $40 billion in economic activity.

The airport is primarily used for recreational flying, flight training and corporate activity, although the IDOT study states the airport has been used for transporting cargo, medical flight, law enforcement operations, Civil Air Patrol operations and Black Hawk helicopter training for the Army National Guard.

The study identifies Sonoco, Rydell Corp., Target, 3M and Hy-Vee as being some of the major corporate users of the airport. Moore said the airport was a key factor in Target’s decision to build a store on Sycamore Road.

DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport is the only airport of its kind in the county, although there is a small, private airfield in Sandwich. Cleveland said the airport hosts 25,000 flights a year.

Framed in the airport’s conference room is what Moore described as a 20-year plan, but it’s entirely based on user demand. For example, if a major company decided to locate its corporate headquarters in the county, the airport already has sketched out where the additional hangars would go.

“It’s the logical conclusion of the airport,” Moore said. “It’s a plan in the truest sense of the word.”

But it’s only an operation plan, Moore said. It does not address the possibility of the airport becoming a regional one. The regional airport would have an airport authority, which would have taxing power. An airport authority can be created only through a referendum or legislative action in the Illinois General Assembly.

“It’s something that we’ve told the state that we’d very much like to do,” Moore said. “The timing just hasn’t worked out yet, but it’s something we’re still very interested in.”