The Chicago Executive Airport board will sponsor a study on expanding by creating a 7,000-foot runway with the help of Charlie Priester, whose family once owned the airport, it was revealed Monday.
The airport board shared the news with the Wheeling village board and the Prospect Heights council. The representatives of the two municipalities, which have owned the airport since purchasing it from the Priester family in 1986, supported a study, with only a few members expressing concern about the homes and businesses that would be displaced or adversely affected if a 7,000-foot runway were built. The longest runway now is 5,000 feet.
A longer runway could affect "a good chunk of Wheeling," said Wheeling Trustee Kenneth R. Brady. "I wish there was a way to redesign it to go over the forest preserve or the industrial park to the southwest rather than right over the heart of Wheeling."
Prospect Heights Mayor Nick Helmer said after the meeting that he thinks a runway extension would occur at both the north and south ends, affecting both communities.
Priester, whose company based at the airport manages 50 airplanes, told the boards that surveys show large corporate planes are the future for airports like Chicago Executive. And those planes need runways of 7,000 feet to fly with full fuel tanks so they do not have to stop and refuel when they go as far as the Middle East or Japan.
"Users are buying long-range corporate jets, and you need to answer the needs of the users. What is it going to take to do that?" he said.
The ability of the airport to serve corporations is important in drawing companies to the region, Priester said. He also said the tax of 12.7 cents per gallon of fuel is the main income the airport brings the municipalities, and filling a large corporate jet takes 4,000 gallons.
The airport board made it clear it plans to hire Priester to manage the study, but Chairman Robert A. McKenzie would not discuss Priester's role after the meeting. The board has the power to do this, but the municipalities must approve any budget changes, attorneys for the bodies agreed.
Priester said getting support from all parties, including the Federal Aviation Administration and Illinois Department of Transportation, before, during and after the study would be important.
The board also announced Monday that Jamie L. Abbott, acting executive director of the airport, will get the job permanently. McKenzie said the board would finalize Abbott's promotion at its next meeting.
According to his LinkedIn biography, Abbott has been assistant manager at the airport for almost 10 years. Before that he managed the Michigan City, Indiana, airport.
Abbott became acting manager of Chicago Executive last summer when longtime manager Dennis Rouleau took a leave with a serious health condition. Rouleau and the board reached a settlement for his permanent departure early this year.