December 5, 2011

The recent completion of $7.4 million in improvements at historic St. Louis Downtown Airport is expected to provide a welcome boost to business aviation air traffic and related activities at the facility. The airport’s 7,001-foot primary runway reopened in early November after being repaved and widened from 100 to 150 feet. A high-intensity runway lighting system with precision approach path indicators at both ends also was installed.

The runway, which was closed for six months, now can handle aircraft up to 200,000 pounds, which makes it easily accessible by large commercial jets, such as Boeing 757s and Airbus 320s, as well as long-range business jets, said Bob McDaniel, airport director.

Given its close proximity to downtown St. Louis – only three miles to the city’s famed Gateway Arch from the airport’s location across the Mississippi River in Cahokia, IL – the improvements make the airport even more attractive to business travelers flying into the city.

The upgrades also are expected to boost business for the airport’s largest private employer, Jet Aviation (formerly Midcoast Aviation), a division of General Dynamics employing about 1,200 people at the airport.

“A couple of years ago, they built two large hangars with the idea of getting multiple aircraft in them,” McDaniel said. “They knew at some point in the future they’d be going after [additional aircraft] for modification and overhaul.”

Nearly 2,000 people work at the airport, which is home to 26 aviation-related businesses and has an annual economic impact of $300 million. Its many business aviation operations include all of the St. Louis area’s news and traffic helicopters. “Being only minutes from all of the St. Louis area major medical centers, there’s not a day that goes by that we don’t have at least a couple of ambulances on the ramp for organs for transplant and patient transfers,” McDaniel said.

Opened in 1928 as Curtiss-Steinberg Airport, the facility has a storied past. Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart both flew in and out of the airport. However, it closed in 1959, only to reopen in 1965 as Bi-State Parks Airport. It was renamed St. Louis Downtown Airport in 1999.

Traffic at the airport peaked at about 240,000 operations in 2001. “Starting in 2007, we started seeing a decline in operations,” McDaniel said, adding that the airport was averaging about 120,000 takeoffs and landings this year.

With the improvements completed, he expects air traffic to increase next year. “We’re already seeing an increase in traffic with the reopening of the runway” he said. “Our traffic mix is probably about two-thirds business aviation flying to St. Louis to do business and one-third training.”