Eastern Iowa Airport on Pace to Set Another Passenger Record

June 20, 2024

Jun. 18—CEDAR RAPIDS — The Eastern Iowa Airport, which set a record with 1.4 million passengers choosing the airport in 2023, is on pace to surpass these numbers this year.

"2023 was a record year, and today our passenger traffic is up 10 percent year-to-date, so we continue to have double-digit growth," airport Director Marty Lenss said to more than 200 attendees at a "State of Your Airport" event Tuesday at the new Signature Aviation facility at the Cedar Rapids airport.

Among the attendees were officials from Corridor community, including Cedar Rapids Mayor Tiffany O'Donnell and Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague.

Besides the airport's passenger numbers increase, Lenss also gave an update on several other projects at the airport, including the final phase of a 10-year renovation plan, the airport's educational partnerships and the possibility of adding a parking deck.

Renovation plan

Lenss said the airport's fourth and final phase of its terminal modernization project is projected to be complete by spring 2025.

The $68 million phase, bringing the terminal to have 13 total gates, will add 32,000 square feet including four additional jet bridges, a larger patio with a license to serve alcohol, a sensory room for people overstimulated by travel and a pet relief area.

When the terminal modernization project began in 2014, all four phases were estimated to cost $55 million. Lenss said the final cost would be $120 million. He attributed the increased costs to inflation, pandemic-related construction delays and updated passenger forecasts indicating the need for additional space.

"This is all being done with no bonds and (no) local tax dollars," Lenss said. "We are very grateful for the grant funding from the state of Iowa and the Federal Aviation Administration."

Lenss said the renovations will support the airport's increasing traveler numbers.

In 2023, the airport added three new non-stop destinations: Fort Lauderdale, Washington, D.C., and seasonal service to Miami.

Lenss said that if local travelers want additional destinations, there must be a healthy regional economy. "If we're not using (the airport) as a region, it makes it incredibly difficult for us to go talk with carriers on adding service," Lenss said. "It's vital that we continue to use and fly local."

Lenss said one of the questions he receives the most is whether the airport should build a parking deck. While he didn't announce the construction of one, he said the airport is looking to add one over the next decade.

"It costs approximately $50,000 per stall to build a parking deck," Lenss noted.

Aviation workforce pipeline

Over the past year, the airport has expanded its educational campus by partnering with Eastern Iowan universities to address the shortage of aviation workers.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that overall employment of aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians is estimated to grow 11 percent from 2020 to 2030, with more than 14,000 job openings expected yearly.

Coe College President David Hayes and Kirkwood Community College President Kristie Fisher spoke on a panel alongside College Community School District Superintendent Doug Wheeler.

In collaboration with the airport last fall, Kirkwood started its first aviation maintenance technology program. The two-year program includes hands-on instruction on aircraft at one of the airport's hangars.

Last month, Coe announced a new flight school and aviation management program to begin in fall 2025. Coe students who enroll in the program can complete certification to become a professional pilot, or forego the flight school portion and take classes preparing them for non-flying roles in the aviation industry.

Wheeler announced the school district's plans to start the Discover Aerospace program, which will offer classes for students interested in an aviation career. He said the program will debut in fall 2025.

"We believe it's important — especially due to our proximity to the airport — to be involved in this process," Wheeler said.

All three panelists expressed gratitude for the airport's partnership.

"The goal is to really attract those aviation business opportunities here to Eastern Iowa and put the quality students to work here in our backyards," Lenss said.

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