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PIA plans to put $8 million grant funds towards apron expansion

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PIA Terminal

PEORIA (HOI) - A facelift is coming to a part of Peoria's International Airport, thanks to millions in grant money.

The money will go towards an expansion of PIA's apron, or ramp, where any plane parks for loading and unloading.

"The constraint is, you can't just park an airplane out there and then squeeze through the wing tips," Director of Airports, Gene Olson said. "You have to have enough wing tip to wing tip clearance to be able to get fuel trucks in, to be able to get bag carts in and then be able to push the aircraft back safely without hitting anything else."

The apron is some of the thickest pavement at any airport, because airplanes are sitting on it as a static load. Most apron pavement is 15 to 17 inches thick.

The funding source for this project comes from the Airport Improvement Program funded by user fees, among other things, that the airport has been saving up for years. Due to the pandemic, the FAA is matching the grants by 100 percent, leaving PIA with more than $8 million for their project. If you never fly, or send anything by air freight, you're not helping to fund this project.

"What that will let us do, is spread the jet bridges out some more so that we can get aircraft with larger wing spans," Olson said.

In 2019, PIA saw a record passenger year, then airports started talking about sending larger aircraft , because they would be able to add more people per flight.

"And we were about at the position where we were going to have to say no," Olson said.

PIA simply didn't have the place to fit airplanes side by side. This expansion will shift aircrafts over more and fit larger planes safely.

"I don't want to give the impression that, by the time we finish this we're going to get bigger airplanes, that's something that is going to evolve over time, as business travel recovers and as passenger levels get back to a normal level," Olson said

Olson says it won't necessary stimulate travel.

"What it will do is allow the airlines to schedule whatever air size airplane they want," Olson said.

Olson added, the airport is slowly recovering from the pandemic. It saw 37,000 passengers in March, it's best month since the pandemic began. With this project, he's optimistic for the airports future.

Olson says construction will likely begin next spring. He's not sure yet if it will take one construction season or two. That would put the finish date at next fall in 2022 or fall of 2023.

Gabi Guerrero

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