May 18, 2015

Listen to an NBAA Flight Plan for more on the new Chicago Vertiport.

Back in March 2003, when former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley sent in bulldozers to tear up Meigs Field, fixed-wing operators not only lost easy access to downtown Chicago, but helicopter operators could no longer land at four helipads that had been located on the south end of the airport’s single runway.

Then retired U.S. Marine Lt. Col. Mike Conklin came along. A former pilot of presidential helicopter Marine One, and a veteran of the Beirut conflict and the first Gulf War, Conklin, in 2006, began planning to build a vertiport on an empty 10 acres of land in West Chicago within the Illinois Medical District.

“I briefed the [Daley administration], and I think they liked the fact that I was doing this in the ‘back yard’ instead of the ‘front yard’ – not along Lakeshore Drive,” Conklin said, referring to Meigs Field’s location on Chicago’s Lake Michigan waterfront.

Building a heliport in Chicago “seemed daunting,” said NBAA Midwest Regional Representative Bob Quinn. “I wondered how he would get it done. But the project had momentum and a cadre that was really committed to the project. And they, indeed, brought it to fruition.”

Conklin garnered the support of Ed Forst, director of aviation at the Duchossois Group and president of the Chicago Area Business Aviation Association, shortly after the two men met in 2008. Then Conklin secured financing for Vertiport Chicago soon after current Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office in 2011, and said he wanted a heliport built in his city.

Certified as operational in March, the $13 million facility features a 30,000-square-foot hangar and an 11,700-square-foot terminal. There is both hangar and office space for lease. The Chicago Vertiport also boasts aircraft sales and brokerage, as well as executive charter services. Conklin is in negotiations to bring a sightseeing operator to the property as well.

DHL has signed on to conduct daily operations at the heliport four days a week, hoping to fly in high-value packages and documents for companies doing business in Chicago. Soon, the Chicago Vertiport will take over emergency medical operations for nearby hospitals, Conklin said.

Eventually, Conklin estimates as many as 26 helicopter operations could be conducted daily, helped in part by a budding partnership with nearby DuPage Airport (DPA). Business aircraft passengers would debark at DPA, then would immediately walk to a waiting helicopter and fly approximately 12 minutes to the Chicago Vertiport.

With that kind of capability, “I think DuPage has the potential of becoming the Teterboro of this area,” predicted Conklin.