Planes come and go at Effingham County Memorial Airport about 25,000 times per year, carrying a diverse mix of passengers.
Entertainers such as Jeff Foxworthy and Steve Martin touched down there for shows at the Effingham Performance Center. Business people connected to a wide range of companies across the region have come to depend upon the convenience that an airport at the “Crossroads of Opportunity” provides.
“When you have several stops to make in a day, you want to utilize these smaller airports,” said Kevin Howard, a pilot from DeKalb. He considers Effingham’s airport a great place to fly in and fly out – without the need to drive to St. Louis.
“There are a lot of business people who fly in here to do their business,” Howard said. “And it’s good for the community.”
Officials say that a key building block of the region’s future is continuing to develop the airport. High on the list of desired improvements is extending the main runway, which would accomodate larger aircraft and spur more traffic. More traffic means more opportunities across a broad spectrum.
“We like to call ourselves the doorway to the city and the doorway to the county,” said Tony Siemer, chairman of the Effingham County Memorial Airport commission.
With the Kansas City Flight Center controling instrument traffic in this region, there are now 22 aircraft based at the airport, according to airport Manager Jerry Tate. The East-West concrete runway is the longest of two runways, at 5,100 feet. The North-South runway is asphalt, he said.
Airport commissioners hope to get approval to extend the East-West runway to 6,000 feet – the “magic number” for small airports looking to grow.
“Because take off takes longer in the summer, due to the hot, humid conditions, it is needed,” said Siemer.
“Because we are getting larger aircraft, they need the distance primarily for the take off,” added Tate. “It has to have enough runway to accelerate to a certain speed, and also for the ‘abort and stop,’ if needed.”
“A lot of people who make decisions as to making investments in this community and employing people here want to know what kind of airport is here,” said Greg Koester, airport superintendent.
While that project to extend the runway hasn’t been approved yet, the commission meets with the State of Illinois and an Federal Aviation Administration official annually in October to show them the five-year plan.
“With some of the larger aircrafts the only way to make that take off as it is now, is to lighten the load, which usually means taking on less fuel,” said Tate. “If we had longer runways and a pilot wanted to fuel up to go to California from Effingham non-stop, they could.”
A project that has been approved to help accommodate larger planes is the apron expansion, said Siemer. The apron is the concrete area where the planes are parked after landing.
“We are approved for a project that will link our taxi way with our apron,” said Siemer. “Now there are two grass islands that seperate the two. We have had occasions in the past where a larger aircraft has gotten caught up in the grass.”
Because of the “gateway to the community” attitude, Siemer said the commission wanted a nice terminal for people to come into after landing.
In 2011, a $450,000 terminal was built. It has a weather information room, pilots’ lounge, general waiting area, and vending machines.
The commission collects $150,000 each year from the federal government. The airport is supported 90 percent in federal funds, 5 percent state funds and 5 percent county funds.
Located about three miles south of Effingham, just off of U.S. Route 45, on property that was once the Effingham County Poor Farm, it replaced the original airport once located on North Fourth Street, which was dedicated May 30, 1931.
Newspaper reports described the airport as one with sod runways, in the beginning, before the paved ones were built. But, more traffic means upgrades are continually needed.
Construction on the existing airport began around 1945, after it was determined that the former Poor Farm was no longer feasible. It had been a county supported entity after laws changed to make it a privately run facility for the indigent population, said Siemer.
The new airport was named in memory of American service men and women who died during World War II, he said.
“I’m seeing more jet aircrafts coming into Effingham than ever before,” said Tate.
Airport users include companies such as Heartland Dental, Sherwin Williams, Pepsi Cola, Quad Graphics, Menard’s, Cromwell Radio Group, Steven Industries, Siemer Milling Company, Midland States Bank, North American Lighting, Agracel, Boos Butcher Block, Meijer, Bonutti Clinic, Beck’s seeds, Cracker Barrel, Blue Beacon, Effingham Equity, Pinnacle and Pioneer Seed are some that have used the airport.
Besides Foxworthy and Martin, entertainers Larry the Cable Guy, Ron White, as well as a number of bands, have passed through the airport’s doors on their way to the EPC.
Heartland Dental Group has leased land from the county owned airport and built its own hangar for what is the largest aircraft housed there. Configured as a commuter aircraft, it would seat about 18 passengers, Siemer estimated.
“I think once that runway gets to 6,000 feet a lot more people will discover Effingham,” said Koester. “Effingham will start to show up on more people’s radar.”
Contact Dawn Schabbing at email@example.com or 217-347-7151, ext. 138