Recognizing an Airport ‘Partner’

One on one discussion with Bob McDaniel, NATA’s 2007 award winner

ORLANDO — During this spring’s annual convention of the National Air Transportation Association, Col. (Ret.) Robert L. McDaniel, C.M., was honored with the group’s annual Airport Partnership Award, given each year to an individual who has helped foster good relations between the airport and its tenants. The award is sponsored by AIRPORT BUSINESS magazine. During this year’s session, McDaniel sat for a one-on-one interview to discuss his airport and its tenants, as well as hot issues facing the industry — notably security and user fees.

McDaniel, 56, is director of the St. Louis Downtown Airport in Sauget, IL, his hometown airport that’s located just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. In his youth, he watched aircraft come and go from this airfield, in time pumping fuel for the airport. During his 25 years in the U.S. Air Force, he flew T28s and C-141s, and later set up airport operations at military airfields in offshore locations. Upon retirement, he served as director of the Texarkana (TX) Regional Airport before returning to Sauget.

Today, he owns and flies a Starduster bi-plane, and his son is an airline pilot for JetBlue. His airport has two full-service fixed base operations — Midcoast Aviation and Ideal Aviation — and some 265 based aircraft.

Following are edited excerpts of our interview with McDaniel ...

AIRPORT BUSINESS: How have things been at your airport since we did a cover story [in October, 2004]?

McDaniel: My biggest challenge is staying up with the progress of my tenants — Midcoast Aviation being the one that’s growing most aggressively. But all of them seem to be doing quite well. There are questions ahead regarding user fees, the limited AIP [Airport Improvement Program] funds that are available, and at the state level — Illinois is really having some funding problems. I need runway and other infrastructure projects right now.

We still have about 300 acres with good access ready for development, but I don’t have the infrastructure – utilities, taxiway access. I don’t have the ability to develop that area.

On our west side we moved the perimeter fence back and we’re building private hangars. I’ve still got some open spots, but those are under lease and my developer can’t build the hangars fast enough.

AB: Who is building the hangars, the airport or a private developer?

McDaniel: Private. We sink what money we have back into infrastructure improvements and we try very hard not to compete with our tenants and those developers who have been successful on our airport. Owning T-hangars is good for us once they’re paid for, but I think it’s better when I’ve got a developer who is building a high-quality hangar at a good price.

I put my money into runway and taxiway and airport maintenance.

AB: Is funding the primary thing holding back your infrastructure development?

McDaniel: It’s strictly a money issue. We’ve got one jet-capable runway, our primary which is 7,001 feet. My parallel runway is 3,800 feet. We did a traffic survey two years ago and surveyed 5,000 users. Ninety-three percent said there was something that impacted their mission. Seventy-three percent were impacted because of the one jet-capable runway.

Our primary runway was last resurfaced about 16 years ago. It’s still in good shape but it doesn’t have much life in it. We’re going to extend the parallel to 5,300 feet. That will give us limited jet capability when we close the primary to do a major rehabilitation.

The parallel runway extension is unfunded; it will go out for bid in June. We’re hoping that we can come up with enough discretionary money to get it funded.

AB: What’s the status of the high-tech security system you’ve been looking to install?

McDaniel: That’s been somewhat stalled. Our airport is unique in that it’s owned by Metro, the mass transit authority. The legal name is the Bi-State Development Agency. It’s gotten hung up in our contracting division. We had the product we wanted [from Navigance]. We’re going to have to go out and do a competitive bid process. I hope to have it up and running this summer.

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