Pekin City Council members have come and gone and many of them spent their tenure complaining about the use of money for the Pekin Municipal Airport — a small facility that has never operated at a profit, and so has been poorly maintained in some instances.

The airport is a compilation of several hangars, a pilot’s area, office, taxiway, fueling station and runway. At its entrance is a dilapidated aircraft that shares a common plague with the airport — paint fade and peel.

The Council and city administration has paid more attention to the airport over the past few decades, with projects mostly funded by the state and federal government — repair of the taxiway, replacement of the taxiway lights, new restrooms, a new fueling cabinet and other projects. In the near future, the runway will be replaced because of some cracks in it, and new runway lights will be installed. The Council recently approved the replacement of a roof.

The federal government, said Pekin Municipal Airport Director Todd Dugan, pays 90 percent of the repairs and maintenance of the airport, the state pays 5 percent and the city pays 5 percent. The federal dollars cannot be used for moneymaking projects, such as the construction of additional hangars. Currently there is a long list of people waiting for a place to store their plane or open a business at the airport.

“Right now, we have a waiting list of 19 people waiting to get into a hangar,” said Dugan. “It’s a little more complicated than just putting up a row of T-hangars (rows of small one-plane hangers).

“To put a row up costs about $400,000 to $500,000. Since those are a revenue generating project, they would be entirely funded by the city. So the payback period on that would be between 12 and 15 years, which would not be a smart investment. So what we can do, after all of our airfield is updated, and this spring we will be doing our runway lights and next year we’ll be doing the runway; after that, we get $150,000 a year. We can bank that for three years and use that for a revenue generating project, such as the T-hangars. So now we get $450,000 of that $500,000 paid for, the city is only out $50,000. And it’s a two-year payback, and it’s a good investment.”

Dugan said the city is looking at creative ways to increase revenues and make sound budget decisions.

Nicholas Keith, owner of Keith Aero, rents a hanger for his plane repair and maintenance business.

“This is one of the few airports in the area that didn’t have anything, and I thought it was a missed opportunity for a lot of other people who just overlooked it,” said Keith. “And so when the time was right, the previous Airport Manager Clayton Stambaugh, we made an agreement. It’s a good location.

“It’s a great community. The airport has a long runway, which is very beneficial for some of my clients, and I do have clients who come from Kansas City, Virginia, Colorado, Louisiana, all over the Midwest and some from the East Coast.”

Keith said he has a crew of four, and he is partnering with Pekin Community High School for an intern. 

“I just started the program this year,” he said. I’m hoping as long as I’m in business I can get an intern each year to just kind of get them exposed to aviation, hopefully grow the community, because we are hurting for mechanics.

“I need two more here bad, experienced mechanics very bad. (All the planes) on that ramp (are) here for me and my business. We’re growing. Sometimes it hurts and sometimes it don’t, as with any small business. ... One thing I can tell you about this airport — if the capital investment is made to expand the airport and T-hangars is a big one, we are hunting for T-hangars. I would rent two right now because I don’t have the room. There are some aircraft I can’t park outside, because they’re worth more than I care to spend to fix them. Also another intersecting runway and some sort of on-airport weather observation system.”