An aviation Tech Center

AN AVIATION TECH CENTER SIU and the Southern Illinois Airport combine forces to create a Transportation Education Center By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director August 2000 DARBONDALE, IL - It is 10 a.m. on a hot, muggy summer day in...

She also says this is an opportunity for two transportation segments, automotive and aviation, to build off the synergies between them. In particular, this could prove beneficial in helping meet labor shortages in two industries being significantly influenced by changing technologies while losing new people to the computer industry.

And, she points out, it's an opportunity to build on the reputation SIU has established in both the automotive and aviation industries.

Shafer says that the airport's commitment for the project was an initial $2 million in infrastructure improvements to support the complex, with support coming from IDOT and an Illinois 1st development program.

Says Shafer of the center, "It cements the relationship between the university and the airport - a relationship established in 1960. Also, we see considerable development and subsequent revenue potential tied to it. And, there's the potential for industry seminars and conferences and for a new auditorium on the site."

Southern Illinois University already generates some $400,000 per year in revenues for the airport. It operates 39 of the 106 based aircraft, according to Shafer, and purchases fuel from the airport on a cost-plus basis. The university services its fleet.

The airport currently operates in the red, with an annual operating budget of some $600,000, of which some 20 percent comes from a property tax subsidy, says Shafer. For the Southern Illinois Airport, the education center offers more potential for economic development and, thus, revenues, than any effort proposed to date, says Shafer.

Other airport revenues are generated from FBO services and flight training, both operated by the airport. "The history of the airport is that it has always been competitive," explains Shafer, "but we weren't happy with the level of performance of the private providers we had. However, we've never intended to stay in those businesses. We've been consolidating all the services so that we'll be able to offer a package to private enterprise. We should be offering it to the marketplace in about six months."

An annual motocross race, the 2001 state aerobatic championships, and a pending Airstream trailer annual convention on the airport grounds are a few of Shafer's revenue pursuits. (He estimates the Airstream convention would have an economic impact of $5 million.)

The airport authority recently commissioned a commercial air service study with Edwards & Kelcey (see sidebar), which indicates commercial air service is not a practical goal for the Carbondale airport today.

Says Shafer, "We did the study to satisfy the question of the community of whether or not air service is something we should be spending our time pursuing. The preliminary report indicates the numbers aren't there to make a substantial case to the airlines. It can keep us from being distracted from our intent - to create a strategic development plan to get back to highly defining what it is we can do with this airport in the future."

For This Airport, Air Service Is Not the Answer
A two-hour drive southeast of St. Louis, the Southern Illinois Airport lies nestled in the rolling hills that mark the beginning of the Southern U.S. It is an agricultural area, dotted with prisons. It is not that the economic boom of the 1990s skipped Carbondale, IL; those here simply chose not to participate as aggressively. As airport manager Gary Shafer looks to develop his facility, he knows commercial air service will not be the catalyst.

Robin Lee Monroe, vice president of Edwards & Kelcey in Baltimore, an air service consulting firm, was hired to analyze the potential for commercial carrier service into the Southern Illinois Airport. Her conclusion: commercial air service is not a practical pursuit, even with the passenger base created by nearby Southern Illinois University - the major tenant of the airport.

Explains Monroe, "We determined there was no way they were going to attract air service. But that didn't mean other economic development wasn't feasible. We wanted to leave them with something, and that was an economic development strategy.

"What they need is a long-term strategic development plan with SIU as the anchor." That, in fact, is the goal of the Transportation Education Center.

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