Chicago Executive Airport is more expensive and at a competitive disadvantage mainly because its tenants must pay property taxes, according to the new chairman of the airport's board.
Reducing costs to bring more business is one of the early goals of Robert McKenzie, a 32-year-old Chicago attorney who lives in Wheeling. He also wants to make the airport more attractive to owners of single-engine planes.
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McKenzie, who practices with Arnstein & Lehr, recently won approval from both Wheeling and Prospect Heights after the board had been without a permanent chairman for almost a year. Leaders of each community advanced at least one candidate that the other rejected.
The appointment signals a new period of agreement between the two municipalities that own the airport, according to Dean Argiris, Wheeling village president, and Nick Helmer, mayor of Prospect Heights. Both praised McKenzie and his experience.
"I am very excited," McKenzie said in an interview. "I enjoy aviation more than just about anything else I do. I was looking for an opportunity to get more involved in aviation and the community."
Besides owning a single-wing airplane that he keeps at Chicago Executive, McKenzie says he is knowledgeable about aviation law and has had clients who own airplanes and have other roles in the aviation business.
The airport's location, including being relatively close to downtown Chicago, means it should get more business, he said. But high costs at Chicago Executive encourage charter businesses to base their planes at airports in Waukegan and Kenosha, even though they pick up many clients at the Wheeling/Prospect Heights airport. This means the local airport does not reap the revenue.
Long-term tenants at airports in other counties do not have to pay property taxes, but in Cook County they do, said McKenzie, who added changing that requires legislative action.
He said he will also will work to lower fuel prices at the airport.
"I want to find out what it is that drives our expenses so high," said the new chairman.
He also wants to make the airport more attractive to owners of single-engine planes through steps like improving outdoor plane storage, perhaps creating an area with overhead roofs.
While many do not consider single-engine planes money makers for an airport, their owners often move up to the turbojets that general aviation airports covet, he said.
Adding a restaurant that attracts local residents as well as airport clients would enhance revenue that the airport brings its communities, he said, pointing at the Schaumburg Regional Airport and Bolingbrook's Clow International Airport.
Argiris and Helmer predict the end of extended squabbling between the two governments that own the airport. Both are expected to approve an amended agreement that will give the airport board, not the two municipalities, control over the airport manager, including the power to hire and fire.
Helmer said he also expects a lawsuit his city filed against Wheeling over sales tax sharing to "go away."
Another aviation achievement that McKenzie counts is teaching his wife, Elaine, a transportation engineer, how to pilot a plane.
"We decided since we survived that we should get married," he said.