CEA Seeks to Allay Fears of Possible Runway Extension

Original article written by Caroline Freer for Journal & Topics on March 1st, 2019. Link to original article can be found HERE

With the heat of opposition building to the idea of a runway extension at Chicago Executive Airport, chairman of the airport board D. Court Harris is anxious to cool things down.

“No one on my airport staff or board of directors has any preconceived notions of any runway extension,” said Harris.

CEA is in the final phase of a five-year master plan study update. Jamie Abbott, executive director of the CEA, confirmed the study is expected to be finished this fall.

The last master plan update was done in 1984 and resulted in the airfield becoming compliant with FAA safety regulations.

“The master plan, in process, is looking holistically at all aspects of the airport,” said Harris, “which includes runway length.”

Abbott explained the study is a necessary component of getting funding from the FAA to do any airport projects or improvements.

The airport is jointly owned by the city of Prospect Heights and the village of Wheeling. Abbott emphasized any final decisions about changes at CEA will be made by a joint board of the two towns.

“The airport board is really just a recommending body for this type of major decision-making to the city and village,” Abbott said.

State Rep. Jonathan Carroll, D-Northbrook, jumped into the fray on Feb. 22, with a press release stating his opposition to the idea of expanding CEA’s main runway.

Carroll is representative for the 57th District which encompasses both Prospect Heights and Wheeling as well as portions of Arlington Heights, Mount Prospect, Des Plaines, Buffalo Grove, Glenview, Palatine and Northbrook.

“All the communities in my district, not just Wheeling and Prospect Heights, are impacted by the noise and environmental issues from that airport,” said Carroll.

The CEA board reached out to him immediately upon receiving the press release, Carroll said, and a meeting was set up for Monday, Feb. 25.

Characterizing the meeting as “a good conversation,” Carroll said the board was very transparent and agreed to share the study when it’s completed.

“The big issue for me, is the airport doesn’t serve the community it’s in,” said Carroll. “If it creates revenue, those revenues are meant to support the airport.”

Harris disagreed, saying tax revenue from fuel sales at the airport amounts to about $300,000 per year and goes into the general funds for Wheeling and Prospect Heights, to be used at their discretion.

Abbott explained that CEA does generate revenue from the sale of aviation fuel, and the community also levies a sales tax on the fuel. However, Abbott said, “The FAA has told Illinois, the state needs to collect that revenue and use it for airport operations only.”

In 2014, the FAA implemented a ruling requiring states and local governments to spend revenue from jet fuel taxes only on air travel-related expenses.

According to the FAA, the three-year transition period expired Dec. 8, 2017. Illinois has not yet complied and the issue is currently being looked at in Springfield.

As for potential runway extension, “I understand the anxiety and empathize with folks living around the airport.,” said Abbott. “There is always going to be a ‘no-build’ alternative and the runway stays the same.”

That will suit Carroll just fine. “The only option I see is leaving the airport as is,” he said.

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