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PIA Getting $8M Federal Grant To Accommodate Larger Planes

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WCBU
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Some bigger planes may be coming to Gen. Wayne A. Downing Peoria International Airport by the end of next year.

A recently announced $8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation will enable PIA to finish a construction project to meet Federal Aviation Administration standards for larger planes.

Airport director Gene Olson said plans to expand the air carrier parking apron in front of the terminal have been in the works for about two years.

“In 2019 before COVID hit, we were experiencing record passenger travel, and the airlines were wanting to send us larger airplanes,” said Olson. “But we didn't have the apron space to be able to spread the jet bridges out enough to accommodate larger aircraft.”

Olson said he thinks PIA and the air travel industry are primed for a rebound that will require the bigger aircraft.

“The question age is just, 'When?’ This is a big bump in the road and a lot depends on things that are unknown, like how quickly will business travel resume and things like that,” he said. “Nothing ... beats a face-to-face meeting; you can do virtual meetings all you want, but everybody's talking about Zoom fatigue and things like that. It's not going to be long before somebody wants to meet somebody in person and shake their hand, and so. I think business travel is going to resume.

“Recreational, leisure-type travel has still been strong even with the pandemic, and we're seeing Allegiant add new cities and new routes to Peoria. So I'm optimistic that we will recover to pre-pandemic levels. It's just a question of the timing and how long will it take for that to occur.”

In a statement, U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Moline, called the apron expansion a “critical project” that will improve PIA’s operations.

“Peoria International Airport is a vital transportation hub and a major economic driver in our corner of Illinois,” Bustos said. “We must continue to invest in our infrastructure to rebuild our country and create good-paying jobs in our communities.”

Olson said the plan is to expand the existing apron west, and the design work already is underway. He said the bidding process will take place this summer before the end of the federal fiscal year in September, with the construction phase targeted for 2022.

“It should be done within one construction season which, typically runs from May through October,” said Olson. “The project itself involves a bunch of drainage work (and) some grading — because if you look at where the area is, it's not all at the same level — and then finally some paving on top of that.”

Olson said the grant will cover the entire cost of the construction phase.

“We knew what the entitlement funds were, going in. So we targeted the design to fit those funds,” he said. “In terms of making capital investments, a downturn in activity is sort of the perfect time for us to do the construction, because that way you're not interrupting as much with flight operations to be able to actually do your construction.

“So it's kind of a dark time, but it's also an opportunity for us to do construction without disrupting major things.”

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