In Position, Then the Downturn

DEKALB, IL — Sixty miles due west of Chicago along Interstate 88 lies DeKalb, home of a major agricultural research center, various industries, and Northern Illinois University (NIU). In recent years the urban sprawl from the east has reached DeKalb, to the point that rooftops are visible in the distance from DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport. Meanwhile, the City of DeKalb, the state, and the Federal Aviation Administration have been backers of preparing the airport for growth, pumping some $55 million into the infrastructure over 15 years. The primary target today is obtaining limited Part 139 certification to handle charters for NIU, along with waiting for an economic rebound. Says airport manager Tom Cleveland, “There’s so much potential for this airport. It’s an economic engine for the area.”

“Two years ago they were building 1,000 homes a year out here. Now it’s nothing, just like everywhere else.Cortland, right next to the airport – there’s nothing but rooftops over there. It was going gangbusters.”

The airport has one fixed base operator, DeKalb Aviation, a recent start-up following the departure of J.A. Air Center, which consolidated this satellite location with its main FBO at Aurora Airport to the east. The city leases space from the FBO for the airport administration offices.

Over 15 years the airport has created an airfield with two runways (4,201x75 and 7,225x100 feet) and associated taxiways along with an ILS and other associated infrastructure. The total footprint of the airfield is 925 acres, much of it available for development; some 360 acres are currently farmed.

A goal is to make one side of the airport corporate, the other light general aviation. Tenants include two flight schools, repair station Win Aviation, a condo association, and an ongoing continuing education program for high school students, in concert with the local junior college.The FBO is currently building a 150x150-foot hangar to accommodate transient corporates.

Cleveland puts the annual ops budget at $1.5 million, running a $200,000 deficit with the city. As the economy kicks up, he expects new development to have a significant impact on the budget. A new airport restaurant and office building are expected to bring in some $50,000 annually to the airport.

The university, which has some 25,000 students, in recent years has reached success with athletics, which is having an impact. “Since I’ve been here the NIU football team has been doing really well,” says Cleveland. “The first year I got here you didn’t see anybody flying in for football games. We’ve got a full ramp now; we’ve got some corporate jets coming in with alumni; we’ve got singles and twins coming in.

“We’ve been trying to market the place to NIU alumni and have been talking with the athletic department at NIU; they’re very excited. They bus up to Rockford now — and they’ve got a great hometown airport ten minutes from campus. They should be using it.”

Cleveland says the airport is probably one year away from getting its limited Part 139 certification. A crash/fire/rescue vehicle is on site, and a signage project and painting enhancement will be underway this fall to help the airport meet the standards.