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Director of airports provides update on Peoria International

Gene Olson, Director of Airport for the Peoria Metropolitan Airport Authority, stops by the WCBU offices for an update on new projects and pandemic recovery.
Collin Schopp
Gene Olson, director of airports for the Peoria Metropolitan Airport Authority, stops by the WCBU offices for an update on new projects and pandemic recovery.

After the announcement of a new air traffic control tower last month, more changes are coming to the Peoria International Airport. An $8.4 million grant, announced in late July, will be used for resurfacing projects on the airport’s runways.

“There's a thing called a pavement condition index study,” explained Director of Airports Gene Olson. “The state of Illinois actually sponsors that and they go out about every three or four years. And they have a survey crew that actually drives each runway. They look at the different cracks and deteriorations that are on the pavement. And they put together an index.”

The most recent pavement condition study found that the airport’s shorter runway, known as Runway 422, could use some resurfacing, with some select spots needing to be reinforced a little further below the asphalt.

“So, we’ll probably go in and mill a couple of inches of asphalt off the top,” said Olson. “Then come back in with a couple of inches of fresh asphalt and have a new running surface and, you know, fresh markings and the whole thing.”

In an interview, Olson also gave an update on the ongoing staffing struggle in the airport industry, and Peoria International Airport’s gradual return to pre-pandemic traveling numbers.

“I was just looking at the numbers for July. And we don't have the official traffic counts yet. But my operations department looks at video and things like that and tries to estimate how many passengers we had. And they have little notes in the side margin about when there's a delay or when there's a cancellation,” said Olson.

“There was probably a handful. Most of those were delays for maintenance. And there were a couple of cancellations. But all the cancellations that I saw on the spreadsheet were all related to weather. So, we've been doing pretty well in that regard.”

This is notable in 2022, as according to Flight Aware, there have been more flights canceled in the first eight months than in all of 2021. Olson attributed these cancellations to staffing issues at every part of airport operations and airlines — from pilots, to flight attendants to luggage handlers.

He said travelers should be prepared for these issues to still be present when major winter holiday travel weekends come around later this year.

However, airports are still seeing a steady increase in travel, returning from pandemic lows.

“I compare everything to the average of the last five normal years,” said Olson. “So, I factor out the pandemic. And, you know, 2020 was horrible. We had two months that were above the average. But then we had the rest of the year way below the average.”

He said by December of 2021, traveler counts were back to just 6% below the five-year average. While numbers for July aren’t final, he said it looks to be about 2% below average, an almost 98% recovery in travel.

Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.