DuPage Airport readies for Ryder Cup onslaught
From the window of his second-floor office at the DuPage Airport, David Bird looks out on the 1 million square feet of ramp space below.
He's convinced that every inch of the concrete expanse will be needed to park all the aircraft expected to arrive for next month's Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club.
While the West Chicago airport averages a few dozen corporate flights per day, it's anticipated that the numbers could triple or quadruple in the days leading up to and immediately following the international golf competition, which will be held on Sept. 25-30.
"We're forecasting a considerable increase in traffic for that week," said Bird, executive director at DuPage Airport.
History says that prediction is correct.
Because of its proximity to Medinah, the airport became a transportation hub when the country club hosted the PGA Championship in 1999 and 2006. During the tournament six years ago, many of the golfers passed through the airport, including Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
"The entire ramp was packed with airplanes in 2006," Bird recalled. "It was a busy week."
The airport's ability to handle large-scale events was demonstrated again in May during the NATO summit in Chicago when air traffic at the facility quadrupled in daily volume without any delays, officials said. Whether the Ryder Cup proves to be busier remains to be seen.
The airport, though, won't see as many golfers as it did during the PGA Championship because fewer players participate in the Ryder Cup. A team comprised of a dozen top European players -- including Rory McIIroy, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood -- will defend its title against a 12-man U.S. squad featuring such golf luminaries as Woods, Mickelson and this year's Masters winner Bubba Watson.
The boost in flight traffic is expected to come from the number of corporate sponsors flying in on a range of business jets. Because the airport has full on-site customs and a primary runway that's about 7,570 feet long, Bird said some of the aircraft are expected to come from as far away as Europe.
And when each plane lands, airport staff will be working to make a positive first impression on the passengers.
In addition to making sure everyone feels welcome, Bird said, staff members will be focused on providing "a very high level of customer service," including 24/7 concierge service.
"This is going to be the first time that many of these people are visiting DuPage County and the DuPage Airport," he said. "So we're going to roll out the red carpet."
Officials anticipate the Ryder Cup will drive tens of thousands of out-of-town visitors to area restaurants, hotels and shops. The event is expected to have a $150 million economic impact on the region, officials said.
Area leaders agree that the Ryder Cup will be an opportunity for the region to market itself as an international destination.
"We expect to take full advantage of showcasing DuPage County to the international business associates who are in town for the Ryder Cup," county board Chairman Dan Cronin said. "This is our time to show the world how great DuPage County is for residents and businesses alike."
Kaili Harding, president of the Schaumburg Business Association, said local hotels are filling up, while restaurants receive inquiries about those dates.
"There's a big financial gain for Schaumburg as well as DuPage County," Harding said. "It's such a huge event ... it's like the Super Bowl of golf. And to have that in your backyard is a huge honor. You can't help but be impacted in some way."
In the meantime, airport officials are busy making a variety of preparations, including wrapping up a construction project at the flight center building. There also are plans to add fresh landscaping and welcome banners.
Airport officials are looking at staffing levels to make sure there's enough personnel, including fueling technicians, to handle the added flights. Security will be increased as well.
"We will be coordinating with the West Chicago Police Department to have a more significant presence here during that week," said Bird, adding that the airport already has its own security measures in place.