Stories from intrepid reporters attending the Illinois Press Foundation Journalism Workshop at Eastern Illinois University
By Siobhan Regan
Coles County Memorial Airport is preparing for runway renovation starting July 13. This renovation will take about four months to complete, causing the airport to be shut down for 36 days.
The renovation will cost about $5 million dollars, with about 90 percent of the money coming from federal funding, according to Andrew Fearn, airport manager. This funding comes from the taxes from pilots who buy fuel at the airport. Another 5 percent will come from the airport and the final 5 percent will come from Illinois funds.
During the shutdown, medical or military helicopters will still be able to land and get fuel. Other types of aircraft will have to go to a different airport to land for the short period.
“They will have to go somewhere else,” Fearn said. “That’s a part of it; you have to do maintenance.”
The runway hasn’t been renovated for 43 years, he explained. This renovation will be relatively cheap due to the fact that the asphalt will be reused to make new asphalt, he said. If they were to get all new concrete and asphalt, it would cost around $15 million and take around a year and a half to complete the project.
The renovations will cause the structure to be weaker than before but Fearn said that it was overbuilt for aircraft now anyway. In the 1960s, 747 planes would land at the airport and they usually had a hard landing, causing them to need extra support.
“747 are one of the hardest landing aircrafts there is because they only have four wheels,” Fearn said. “Airplanes have gotten wider, the engines have gotten more efficient; we don’t need the structure we have now.”
The airport was originally built in the 1960s. It is a general aviation port, meaning it can provide a place to land any sort of aircraft. It covers about 1,275 acres with 582 farmed acres. There are two main runways, No. 129 and No. 624. The runway consists of 9 inches of asphalt and 14 inches of concrete on top. It can hold 68 base planes, 10 helicopters, and one flying club.
There are no fees to land or park, but there are 46 hangars for rent, Fearn said. There are 35,000 yearly operations, with about 95 daily take offs and landings, depending on the day.
“The saying we have, ‘a mile of interstate will take you a mile,’” Fearn said. “’A mile of runway will take you anywhere in the world.’”