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Year in Review 2014: Southwestern Illinois

St. Louis Downtown Airport flying high over charter services

    CAHOKIA — What do Garth Brooks, One Direction and Weezer have in common? Their entourages all flew in and out of St. Louis via St. Louis Downtown Airport.
    Charter aviation is a large and growing business for the airport, says airport director Erick Dahl.
    “We’re probably one of the best kept secrets in the St. Louis region,” Dahl said. “A lot of people don’t know about us but we do contribute quite a lot to the economic development of the region and we’re one of the vital components of the sports charters market.
    “It’s a lot easier for sports teams and celebrities to use us because we’re so close to the Downtown St. Louis sports and entertainment venues,” Dahl added. “There’s a certain anonymity to it here. That’s why we see a lot of A list actors, athletes and celebrities come through because they don’t have to worry about the press or the paparazzi following them around. The can come in, they do their thing, and they leave.”
    The airport’s charter aviation business has taken flight in recent years in part because Jet Aviation, the airport’s largest tenant, has aggressively pursued the business. Jet Aviation, has two business lines at Downtown Airport: MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) and FBO (fixed base operator). Through its MRO business, Jet Aviation provides extensive maintenance, repair and customization services for aircraft from all over the country. This ties in well with its FBO operations which provides fuel and other short-term services for planes just travelling through.
    Dahl said that when Jet Aviation decided to aggressively pursue the FBO business, the airport had to make some improvements to accommodate their needs and meet the specifications for a FAR Part 139 Class IV Commercial Service GA Reliever Airport. That included expanding the runway, building a new control tower and starting its own fire department.
    Downtown Airport is now capable of handling larger planes like the Boeing 757-200 and Boeing 757-300. Dahl said that many of the professional sports teams charter these planes from the commercial aircraft industry and Downtown airport is frequently used by visiting baseball and hockey teams.
    Downtown Airport is already the third busiest airport in the state of Illinois behind only O’Hare and Midway in Chicago and has an annual economic impact of nearly $600 million, but Dahl says there’s plenty of room for growth.
    “We certainly are working aggressively to get to more corporations aware of our proximity to Downtown St. Louis,” Dahl said. “We have a number of corporations that have aircraft here at the airport, and we certainly are willing to talk to others to bring them here as well.”