July 15, 2010

Partnership lands grant to assist airports

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Faculty, students and staff at Southern Illinois University Carbondale will assist in developing a guidebook to help general aviation airports nationwide develop individual business plans.

The University and Aviation Management Consulting Group are partners in the $400,000 project, which will last 18 months. Aviation Management Consulting Group, based in Centennial, Colo., is the primary consultant with University officials participating as sub-consultants. The University’s share of the project is approximately $80,000 to $100,000.

The Transportation Research Board of the National Academies awarded the project late last month, said Charles W. Leonard, a visiting professor with the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, and the project’s principal investigator.

The research grant will produce materials, including the guidebook and business planning documents, to help general aviation airport managers run their facilities more efficiently and maximize self-sufficiency, Leonard said.

The project also involves John A. Hamman, director of SIUC’s Master of Public Administration Program; David A. NewMyer, chair of the Department of Aviation Management and Flight; Kyle L. Harfst, executive director of the Southern Illinois Research Park Corp.; and Gary Shafer, manager of Southern Illinois Airport. The funding will also support graduate assistants within the MPA and aviation management programs, Leonard said.

“This project is the result of an excellent collaborative effort on the campus and with the community, and it reflects the importance we place on service and outreach,” Chancellor Rita Cheng said. “Airports throughout the country will benefit from the expertise at our University. This also will be a wonderful learning opportunity for the participating graduate students, and the experience is bound to help them as they pursue their careers.”

There are approximately 5,000 public and privately owned general aviation airports in the United States. They are typically smaller airports that do not handle commercial airlines or military planes. The project will create a business plan that will be customizable to airports based on their size, funding sources and business models, Leonard said.

“Many airports do not have business plans,” he said. “Many of them hire consultants to create business plans for them that can be expensive.”

Leonard started market research last month with a focus group of airport executives and other officials who manage large, public infrastructure-related facilities in Morristown, N.J. Results from the focus group discussions will form the basis of mail and Web-based surveys, which will lead to developing the general aviation business plans, Leonard said. Graduate assistants will assist with the surveys and review literature to come up with an overview of previous airport business plans, NewMyer said.

NewMyer’s teaching expertise also falls in the area of airport business planning. The program will create a “best practices document” for airports that have minimal staff and nominal budgets, NewMyer said. The business plan is in addition to traditional airport planning that focuses on physical improvements such as extending runways and expanding hangar space.

“Every airport is going to have to have to determine what is their place in the aviation market and the community,” he said. NewMyer notes, for example, that Southern Illinois Airport’s business plan includes the University’s Transportation Education Center, the Illinois Army National Guard Armory, and the Jackson County Emergency Response Services. Mount Vernon Outland Airport, meanwhile, focuses on attracting light sport aircraft to the region, he said.

The grant is another in a series of projects dating back to the 1990s that relate to utilizing SIUC’s expertise in airport planning, NewMyer said.

Having a template that airports can rely upon will assist airport officials not only in developing a business plan, but also long-term planning for their facilities, said Shafer, who earned his master of public administration degree from SIUC in May 2009, and also teaches three aviation-related courses.

The Transportation Research Board saw the need for general aviation airports to have business plans. There were 11 other grant proposals in addition to the one offered by Aviation Management Consulting Group and SIUC, Shafer said.

“This is an aviation-related research project that further identifies the importance of SIUC’s aviation program around the country,” Shafer said. “There were other universities that were part of the competing teams. For SIUC to win out as part of our team says a great deal about the strength and importance of the program.”