LANSING, Ill. (August 13, 2023) – The Lansing Municipal Airport has long served as a local hub for regional air travel and commerce. The Village of Lansing wants to increase its capacity by extending a runway at the site to accommodate larger aircraft.
Too short for take-off
The largest runway at the Lansing Municipal Airport runs north-south, and is called Runway 18/36 (named after the north-south points on a 360-degree compass). At 4,002 feet long, the runway can serve as a landing spot for planes of many sizes, but can serve as a take-off spot only for smaller planes.
“[Larger jets] could land here if they needed to, but then they land here and they want to fuel up their gas tank. And they become much heavier when they fuel up, and that creates a need for the longer runway,” said Village Administrator Dan Podgorski. “So they could land here in an emergency, and they could probably take off in an emergency, but they wouldn’t have a lot of fuel in their tank. So they’ll avoid places that have shorter runways because it’s just not convenient.”
The Village of Lansing plans to extend Runway 18/36 by 1,900 feet, to a total of 5,902 feet.
“5,000 is kind of a magic number, but if you talk to certain people in the aviation industry, they say 5,500 is better,” Podgorski said. He added that the Village of Lansing has talked with a company considering moving operations to the Lansing Municipal Airport, but that company would prefer a runway of 5,500 feet.
More runway for economic development
The Village of Lansing sees extending the north-south runway as a potential attractor not only for larger planes, but also for economic development at the airport and the Lansing community as a whole.
The airport is a “reliever” airport, which means it is designed to accommodate smaller planes and recreational pilots that O’Hare and Midway are not designed to accommodate. Podgorski said the Village’s goal is to expand the airport’s role within that “reliever” category.
“We want to be able to take some more of the traffic that O’Hare and Midway don’t want. What that will do, if we get them here, is it will mean more development,” Podgorski said.
Beyond fuel and maintenance sales, more planes in Lansing will increase demand for the Village’s hangar space, and may require the construction of more hangars.
“From there, it could mean more permanent tenants or concessionaires at the airport,” Podgorski continued, citing Enterprise Rent-A-Car — located on the north end of the airport — as an example. “If there are other aviation-based businesses that see the traffic increasing at Lansing Municipal, then they may decide to locate permanent facilities at the airport.”
Working with federal and state
One of the ongoing challenges hindering the extension of Runway 18-36, Podgorski said, is that Lansing is not in direct control of such a project. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Illinois Department of Transportation’s Aeronautics Division would be the primary drivers behind the project.
“They approve the projects that happen out there,” Podgorski said. “The Village usually has about a 5% share. The FAA usually takes in about 90%.”
Village Finance Director Brian Hanigan said a rough estimate for the runway expansion could be $10 million.
“The federal government would pay $9 million of that, and so we as a small village would have to come up with half a million dollars, which is obviously a lot of money,” Hanigan said.
A crucial part of the runway extension process is convincing these larger public bodies that the demand for such an extension exists.
“They don’t adhere to a Field of Dreams mantra of ‘If you build it they will come.’ They more or less adhere to a mantra these days of ‘Show us the demand, and we’ll build you what you need,'” Podgorski said.
The challenge is this: The FAA needs to see a demand for a longer runway at the airport in order to consider funding it. But demand can be hard to generate because aviators are choosing different airports because Lansing’s runway is too short.
“It’s kind of a chicken-or-the-egg situation,” Hanigan said.
As such, the Village is working to attract businesses and more planes to the Lansing Municipal Airport area to demonstrate that the demand for an extension exists.
Hanigan said he’s hopeful for the airport’s future if the Village “can attract a good partner [to move operations to the airport], which I think we can, and if we can continue to at least focus on fixing the things we can out there, and then putting money into the Ford Hangar.”
“This extension of the runway will bring another layer of pilots, and planes, and development to the airport and to Lansing in general,” Podgorski said.