PIA provides access to the world and enhances our quality of life.
The Metropolitan Airport Authority of Peoria owns and operates two airports in Peoria County, but the reach and impact of those airports are felt in a much wider area. These airports include the General Wayne A. Downing Peoria International Airport (PIA) and the Mt. Hawley Auxiliary Airport.
PIA is the area’s predominant commercial service airport, serving the needs of the traveling public across a wide area of central Illinois and beyond. PIA serves two distinct but complementary markets—business travel and leisure travel—which have different priorities and needs. The business traveler needs access to their markets. American, Delta and United Airlines serve PIA with direct nonstop flights to six major airline hubs. American flies to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport and Dallas-Fort Worth; Delta flies to Atlanta, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and the Detroit Metro Airport; and United provides service to O’Hare and our most recent addition, George Bush Intercontinental in Houston.
But direct flights are only one piece of the puzzle. Each of these major cities is also a major connecting hub. A traveler departing PIA who connects through one of these hubs has access to nearly the entire United States—and a big chunk of the rest of the world. By changing planes twice, a business traveler can get to nearly the entire world in one day’s travel time.
Leisure travel is the other distinct market served by PIA. Leisure travelers are usually more price-sensitive than business travelers, and they are often booking multiple tickets at the same time. While the three traditional airlines cater to the leisure market as well, PIA also has Allegiant, an airline that brings a new dynamic to our community.
Packages and Other Services
Allegiant Air is a low-cost carrier that provides a travel experience—not just an airline flight. Allegiant can provide a complete package, including hotels, rental cars and even entertainment at the destination. It connects smaller communities to fun places to go across the U.S., with direct nonstop flights to Las Vegas, Fort Myers/Punta Gorda, Tampa/St. Pete-Clearwater, Orlando-Sanford and Phoenix-Mesa. So whether you’re a high-rolling seeker of exciting nightlife, a hardcore beachgoer or even a Cubs fan eager to watch spring training in person, Allegiant can get you there from PIA, and can even get your hotel room, book your show and provide your rental car. In addition to providing access to fun places, Allegiant estimates that up to 20 percent of its passengers is “reverse flow,” or people from the focus cities traveling to Peoria to visit friends and relatives.
Although airline service is what most people think of when they think of PIA, the airport provides many other services as well. For example, the word “International” in the name is not just an aspiration. The Port of Peoria was created by an act of Congress in 1856—during the whiskey boom years—and that port is still in operation at PIA. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has a one-person office at PIA, which can clear entering aircraft up to about 15 passengers, including corporate and small chartered aircraft. The Airport Authority is currently constructing an addition to the new terminal that will meet CBP’s new design standards, as well as provide the option to expand staffing to serve commercial aircraft up to about 200 passengers. This building will begin operations toward the spring of 2016. The addition will also serve domestic flights, providing needed additional capacity.
General Aviation and Military
PIA also serves two other critical aviation segments: general aviation and military. While the airlines serve up to 500 airports across the nation, the majority of their flights are concentrated at just 250 airports. The total number of public-use airports in the US is nearly 5,000, and general aviation provides access to all of them. An individual with a private pilot license and access to a single-engine airplane can complete a trip in about half the time it would take to drive in a car. Corporate aviation in more sophisticated aircraft can actually outperform the airlines, providing global reach to corporate executives and critical cargo. All of these services are available at PIA through the fixed base operator (FBO), Byerly Aviation and individually-leased hangars. GA tenants also include OSF Life Flight, which operates a fleet of modern medical evacuation helicopters based at PIA. We’ve all seen the helipad at the downtown hospital, but those helicopters live and are maintained at PIA in OSF’s corporate hangar.
Military aviation also has a home at PIA. The airport hosts the 182nd Airlift Wing, operating C-130 cargo airplanes in support of military missions around the globe. While many think of the Air National Guard in the traditional sense of one weekend a month, the 182nd has a dedicated group of full-time pilots and airmen and women that train every day and deploy around the world. Their specialty is air-dropping cargo to troops in need, and it is exciting to watch their practice drops at PIA. The other military organization at PIA is the Army National Guard, which flies CH-47 Chinook helicopters—the huge, green, twin-rotor, banana-shaped helicopters we see flying around the Peoria area. They provide cargo and troop airlift to areas that are inaccessible to fixed-wing airplanes that require runways.
The Economic Impact
So what does all of this aviation activity mean for central Illinois? In short, it means jobs and money. As travelers move about the nation, both in commercial airliners and private aircraft, they are spending money on travel, creating jobs in the community and helping the economy grow. The Illinois Division of Aeronautics recently conducted a study of the economic impact—both direct and indirect—of airports in the state. It demonstrated that PIA is responsible for direct and indirect employment of approximately 2,375 people, with a payroll of nearly $88 million. More than 700 of those jobs are directly at the airport. In addition, the impact of spending related to air travel and aviation activities at PIA totals nearly $295 million.
PIA serves the community in many ways, providing access to the world for central Illinois. The access provided by the airport enhances our quality of life and is a critical part of the infrastructure that makes travel and tourism a fun and profitable venture. iBi
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