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PIA marks terminal's 11th anniversary with a new control tower, other projects on the horizon

Emily Bollinger
Peoria International Airport marked the 11th anniversary of opening its terminal on Tuesday, April 26, 2022.

As Peoria International Airport marked the 11th anniversary of its terminal on Tuesday, airport director Gene Olson said plans for a new air traffic control tower are moving forward.

Olson said the federal infrastructure bill passed last year opens the door for PIA to seek $27 million in grant funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation to build a new tower to replace the outdated existing one.

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Joe Deacon
Peoria International Airport director Gene Olson speaks during a news conference celebrating the 11th anniversary of the airport's new terminal on Tuesday at the Peoria Riverfront Museum.

“The design work is done, the site selection study was done a long time ago. We're ready to start digging,” Olson said during a news conference at the Peoria Riverfront Museum, noting the grant application process is highly competitive.

“There's 26 other airports that are in the same boat we're in with regard to their control towers,” he said. “I think ours is probably in the worst shape, and I have gotten feedback from the FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) asking questions and following up. So that tells me they're at least looking at it. But we don't have the grant in hand yet.”

Olson said he anticipates a decision on PIA's application by the end of the federal fiscal year in September. He also noted that although the preliminary planning is complete, it could take five years before a new tower is operational.

“Part of the problem is the design is more than a year old, so we have to do a code review on it,” he said. “So, it's going to take some time to spool up for construction and do the bidding process, then a two-year construction period.

“Then they have to test all the systems, and operate the old tower and the new one together so that they make sure that everything in the new tower works before they do a cut-over. So it's a really complicated process.”

Olson said before the infrastructure package passed, airports like PIA that owned a control tower staffed with FAA employees were prohibited from receiving federal money.

Another long-term PIA project in the early planning stages is building a satellite terminal on the west side of the airport, similar to the international wing on the east side. As for more immediate upgrades, officials are working on a way to meet airlines’ pre-pandemic requests to send larger planes to Peoria.

“We had to turn them away because we didn't have a gate space to park the airplanes,” said Olson. “So, we're doing a project starting this year to expand the aircraft parking apron in front of the terminal so that we can spread the jet bridges out further and accommodate larger aircraft. Some of that is happening already.”

The anniversary ceremony in the museum’s Giant Screen Theater served as a premiere of a new Metropolitan Airport Authority commercial touting PIA’s economic impact and its status as a community asset, generating $125 million in visitor spending in the Peoria region.

Olson pointed out that the airport has totaled more than 6.4 million passenger trips since the terminal opened in 2011, including a record of nearly 690,000 in 2019. He said that while 2020 numbers fell precipitously amid the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 rebounded to about 480,000 passengers and trends from the first three months of this year suggest another increase.

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.