Marni Pyke

Posted 8/6/2023 1:00 AM
Consider a regional airport’s economic impact and images arise of executives landing in corporate jets, lodging at nearby hotels and dining at local hot spots. That’s all true, but there’s much more to how airports drive revenue growth, experts say. The picture also includes cargo, flight schools, leisure travelers, individual pilots with Cessnas, and more. At the DuPage Airport, “business is booming,” Executive Director Mark Doles said. “The corporate and business traffic is extremely strong — as is flight training.”
Diversification is one reason the state’s public-use airports generate $95.5 billion dollars in total annual economic activity, the Illinois Department of Transportation reported. Subtract O’Hare and Midway, and the remaining airports comprise nearly $50 billion of the pie, according to the Illinois Aviation Economic Impact Analysis released in 2021.Over at Chicago Executive Airport, Executive Director Jeffrey Miller lists multiple jobs related to the Wheeling facility. “The person that tows that aircraft, the person that fuels that aircraft … you have customer service representatives, limo drivers — they’re all touching that aircraft,” he said.

DuPage Airport in West Chicago generates $1.5 billion in annual economic activity and over 5,500 jobs, IDOT found. The $1.5 billion represents not just revenues from tenants but airport construction, visitor spending, airport payroll, air cargo operations and aviation-related businesses. “DuPage is a major economic engine not only for DuPage County but the entire region,” Doles said, adding the airport has the third most takeoffs and landings in the state. The airport’s 7,570-foot runway and U.S. Customs and Border Protection service is attractive not just for local corporations, “but you have the businesses that do business with them coming to visit,” Doles said. “We have 250 to 300 flights per year clear Customs.” It’s also a magnet for leisure travelers. “You’re nonstop anywhere in Europe from DuPage, you’re nonstop South America and you’re one-stop to Asia.”

Chicago Executive Airport is jointly operated by Wheeling and Prospect Heights and is one of the busiest facilities in the state. It’s economic impact is $429.1 million, IDOT found, and new data shows 2,444 direct and indirect jobs connected to the facility. The airport has a U.S. Customs program and accommodates corporate jets for clients such as Walgreens, CVS, Allstate Insurance Co. and Caterpillar Inc. “We have (about) 28 Fortune 500 companies within a 30-minute drive of this airport,” Miller said. The airport also has a robust charter program. “You can a rent a plane, charter a plane and go where you want to go, whether that’s vacation or business,” Miller said. Both DuPage and Chicago Executive airports offer popular flight school programs.

Here’s a look at other players.

  • Waukegan National Airport is heavily used by corporate clients. Economic impact — $181.6 million.
  • Aurora Municipal Airport is home to the Experimental Aircraft Association as well as other users. Economic impact — $140 million.
  • Lewis University Airport handles cargo, business and recreational flying. Economic impact — $92.8 million.
  • Schaumburg Regional Airport accommodates activities like news reporting, aerial inspections, law enforcement operations and flight testing. Economic impact — $33.9 million.
  • The Lake in the Hills Airport serves corporate and recreational pilots. Economic impact — $29.4 million.
  • Joliet Regional Airport is used mainly for recreational flying and inspections. Economic impact — $15 million.

Meanwhile, O’Hare’s economic impact was evaluated at $37.1 billion and Midway International Airport’s is $8.5 billion, according to the IDOT report. The COVID-19 pandemic decimated passenger air for months, but it’s bouncing back. “We’re exceeding prepandemic levels,” Doles said. “There was a lot of pent-up demand, especially for business travel.”