Longer runways at Chicago Executive Airport could mean more business. The airport could accommodate more planes, increase fuel sales and remain competitive in the Chicago market.
But how much longer? And how much business is the airport losing as a result of its current runway length?
A study completed as part of the airport's master plan tried to answer those questions.
Consultants presented the study and an update on the plan during a public meeting last week with officials from airport co-owners Wheeling and Prospect Heights.
Most agree longer runways could boost the airport's economic viability.
"Would that be great for the airport's business? Oh, absolutely," airport spokesman Rob Mark said after the meeting. "But it's not the only thing that's being considered."
Airport leaders emphasized the airport has no immediate plans to expand. They know it's a controversial issue for nearby residents. Plus, the mere possibility of pouring more concrete is years and years away.
According to the runway length study, about 93 percent of plane landings are accommodated on the airport's 5,000-foot runway.
But the percentage of accommodated planes goes down to 61 percent when the trips are longer than 1,500 nautical miles, or roughly the distance to Los Angeles or Seattle. This is because planes loaded with more fuel require a longer distance to take off.
The consultant recommended a runway length of between 5,700 and 6,700 feet, with 6,200 feet considered the optimal choice. That would accommodate 95 percent or more of all flights.
The problem, however, is the airport is landlocked. Expanding the runway would require displacing Wheeling and Prospect Heights residents, and leaders in both towns say that isn't practical or even possible.
The airport could build a new runway in a different direction within its property to add length, said Prospect Heights Mayor Nick Helmer, who served on the airport board for 14 years.
"We could never do it ourselves," Helmer said of a new runway. "If the (Federal Aviation Administration) and other governmental agencies want to get something done, it would take a very long time."
Wheeling Village President Pat Horcher said the airport should focus on expanding operations within its current footprint. For example, create more hangar space or seek out research and development facilities.
Adding hangars is a major focus of the master plan, because aviation trends show more companies will want aircraft storage space. The airport has about 46 acres of developed area and 25 acres of green space. The study predicted the airport should be prepared to develop another 23 acres for businesses.
"The airport is trying to ensure it's ready for the next generation," Mark said.