By Anne Cosgrove
From the November/December 2023 Issue
From infrastructure and ecosystems, to flight technology and sustainability, the aviation industry is undergoing significant changes. From supersonic jet propulsion and VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) to sustainability for airports and aviation facilities and fueling options, aviation officials and private sector leaders have their sights set high. And, another step is on the rise with electric VTOL (e-VTOL) companies expanding capabilities for transportation options.
For example, Joby Aviation, a Santa Cruz, CA-based developer of e-VTOL aircraft is growing with its recent announcement to build an electric air taxi manufacturing facility at Dayton International Airport in Ohio. Like other companies in the space, Joby is looking to utilize these crafts for commercial passenger operations.
In Southern Illinois, Aviation Rising
Historically driven by a mining and manufacturing economy, Southern Illinois is emerging as hub for aviation-related companies seeking to centralize operations with access to a strong talent pipeline. Specifically, Southern Illinois Airport (SIA) is the third busiest airport in that state and was recently named General Aviation Airport of the Year by the Illinois Department of Transportation. Home to Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s nationally recognized aviation and automotive degree programs, SIA’s TechPark includes SIU’s Glenn Poshard Transportation Education Center featuring a 30,000 square-foot fleet storage area and a 12,000 square-foot aviation test cell structure. The nearly 200,000-square-foot facility is considered the premier transportation education center in the Midwest and one of the top institutions of its kind nationwide.
Southern Illinois’ central location combined with SIU’s Aviation Technologies Cooperative Education Program provides a unique competitive advantage for aviation-related companies and real-world experience for aviation students.
In addition to SIU Carbondale’s top-ranked programs, SIA houses a growing number of companies on the field. Of the 20 businesses, recent additions include Crucial MRO, LLC locating a hangar complex designed to accommodate the largest Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 manufactured today. Southern Illinois’ central location combined with SIU’s Aviation Technologies Cooperative Education Program provides a unique competitive advantage for aviation-related companies and real-world experience for aviation students. From 2019-2022, airport investments included three new hangars, a new terminal building, and industrial park building expansion. This $25 million expansion combined with 265 acres available for development positions Southern Illinois Airport for a continued growth trajectory.
Nearby Veterans Airport of Southern Illinois (MWA) provides daily flights to and from Chicago connecting Southern Illinois to the world through O’Hare International Airport. Contour Airlines flies 12 roundtrips per week with 30 seat regional jet aircraft. A $16 million airline terminal completed in 2016 at MWA provides a well-designed, modern facility to easily handle the daily scheduled traffic, in addition to large commercial airline charters.
Charters include those associated with the SIU Carbondale’s Athletic programs, along with the airport’s Honor Flight Chapter flying veterans to Washington, DC on board B737-800 aircraft. The airport’s central location in southern Illinois provides access to population centers.
MWA is also nearing construction of a $5 million terminal project to replace facilities that provide services for private, military, and corporate aircraft activity daily. These operations bring goods and services and do business throughout the region regularly, often looking to expand or relocate entirely to southern Illinois.
“Airports are often a first impression to a community,” said Airport Director, Doug Kimmel, “Our new GA Terminal will be an outstanding representation of the opportunities southern Illinois has to offer.”
Given its location and available facilities, the airport is perhaps positioned best of all for tremendous growth related to air cargo operations. The airport features an 8,012’ x 150’ primary instrument runway alongside over 200 acres of airport owned property available for development.
Kimmel commented, “It has been our responsibility to plan and invest in providing the infrastructure that can accommodate growth in existing business as well as development of new industry for the region. These improvements take time, but are now in place. Given the growth and innovation we see around Marion and the Highway 13 corridor, it is exciting to know that we are in a position to play a key role in the type of increased commerce that will benefit all of southern Illinois.”