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Airport consultant gives recommendations to council

DeKALB – DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport is in a good glide path, an airport consultant told the city council’s Committee of the Whole on Monday.

Jack Penning, managing partner of Volaire Aviation Consulting, presented nine recommendations that should make the airport’s growth, efficiency and profitability continue. The recommendations are the culmination of “dozens and dozens” of vetted ideas, Penning said.

“The airport’s here to be an economic driver for northern Illinois,” he said. “We’re aiming very high for this vision, but it’s important to know our customers are coming from all over the world.”

One of those recommendations is a potential name change. “DeKalb,” “Taylor” and “airport” are not the problem, Penning said. However, “municipal” can be problematic, because pilots see “municipal” in an airport’s name and sometimes assume – albeit mistakenly in DeKalb’s case – that the airport doesn’t sell jet fuel.

And fuel is a big component of the airport’s business and upward mobility. Airport manager Tom Cleveland said the airport sold $93,000 of fuel in July.

Fuel sale increases are the result of an experiment the airport embarked on to try to beat prices of nearby competitors. That gamble has so far paid off, Penning said.

“There’s a lot of risk because we make a lot of profit margin on very high-priced fuels, but with the support of public works, the experiment went forward, and what’s happened is we’ve seen a large increase in fuel sales, and we’ve seen large increases in both revenue, and we’ve seen profits increase because we’re selling so much more fuel,” Penning said.

Penning also recommended adding Swift fuel to its offerings. Swift fuel, named for the Indiana company that developed it, is higher octane, burns more cleanly and is compatible with older airplane engines. It is likely to become the industry standard within a decade, Penning said, but by selling it soon, before other airports, DeKalb benefits from exclusivity.

Penning also recommended two types of farming around the airport: greenhouse and solar. Greenhouse farming is desirable because the Federal Aviation Administration is “not happy” about conventional farms near airports. Farms attract wildlife, which then become a safety problem. By contrast, with greenhouse farming, high-value produce can be grown next door to an airport and shipped to markets within hours.

Regarding solar, Penning said about
22 acres of non-aviation land next to airport would be perfect for a solar farm. Solar farms generate 10 times the revenue as conventional farming.

Community Development Director Jo Ellen Charlton said the city is in talks with a potential client.

Other recommendations included gradual modifications and improvements to help the airport achieve “Part 139” certification in the future; conducting a hangar needs and pricing survey; and development of nearby, small-scale industrial parks.

Part 139 certification is an expensive but desirable goal, officials said, because although the airport never envisions becoming fully commercial, many larger charter planes, such as those that transport athletic teams from Northern Illinois University and other colleges, now must use other airports.

Noting that a strategic marketing plan is still in the works, Penning’s final recommendation is that the airport and city continue to buy as much land adjacent to the airport as possible, so that the airport’s growth is “defensible” and won’t conflict with other land use.

Penning praised airport and city leadership. He said Volaire works with nearly 100 clients in the United States, Canada and Mexico, but few of his clients are as engaged as DeKalb.

The praise was mutual. Council members were pleased that recommendations were incremental, doable and didn’t require a large financial outlay.

“You could easily have come in with an expensive wish list that we couldn’t have met,” 5th Ward Alderwoman Kate Noreiko said. “I think this is a wonderful effort moving forward.”

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