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By RITA DUCKWORTH
p10 downtown airport    In 2016, St. Louis Downtown Airport in Cahokia got one step closer to getting a crucial project off the ground. A federal grant has been issued and plans have been finalized for taxiway improvements that will provide a greater turning radius for larger aircraft.
    “It will allow us to offer world-class service by operating Boeing 757-300 aircraft out of the airport,” explains Airport Director Erick Dahl.
    The project is currently in the design phase and will break ground in April or May of 2017. The airport has been in planning mode on this and several other ventures that will come to fruition in the coming year.
    The general aviation airport currently has no vacancies for new tenants. Based on the amount of interest expressed by private developers, however, Dahl expects the construction of new hangars in 2017.
    “We’re working on plans to open up more areas of the airport for new development,” he says.
    The airport has rebounded from the economic downturn of a few years ago. The number of operations (calculated as a takeoff and a corresponding landing) has reached approximately 110,000 for 2016, up from a 90,000 low in 2008. Fuel sales are strong as well.
    Charter flights have increased steadily at the airport. Dahl said most of the local sports teams now fly in and out of the airport. About a third of the airports operations are helicopter flights. St. Louis Downtown Airport is the base for Fostaire Helicopters which runs a helicopter flight school, and is also home to local news and traffic copters.
    Two FBOs, or fixed-base operators, account for much of the airport’s success.
    Ideal Aviation has grown considerably in 2016 in aircraft maintenance and radio repair. It is now a certified dealer of Cirrus Aircraft and certified to do maintenance for several aircraft.
    The other FBO is Jet Aviation, which runs one of the largest maintenance rehab, repair, and overhaul operations in the nation.
    Through the success of these and all of its tenants, St. Louis Downtown Airport is responsible for nearly $600 million of economic output to the area annually, and more than 1,800 jobs, making it one of the leading private sector employers in the region.
    Dahl expects the facility to continue to soar into 2017.