The success of an upcoming open house at the Vermilion Regional Airport could lead to an air show next fall.
The new airport manager also would like to see a restaurant and opportunities for more economic development at the airport.
New manager Mike Potter said improvements continue to be made at the airport and events are aimed at getting more people out there and engaged with the airport and its activities. Potter became the new airport manager April 1 after longtime manager Bob Gagnon retired.
Potter, a Westville native, has enjoyed coming back to the area after being gone for 30 years. He previously managed the airport in Morehead, Ky., where his wife, Tracey, still goes back and forth.
There are more than 800 acres at the Vermilion Regional Airport off North Bowman Avenue, with about four of those acres being asphalt and 370 acres being farm land with crops on them and 100 acres of hay. Potter said he soon learned how grass grows faster in Illinois than in Kentucky.
One of the first items addressed when Potter came on board was a remodeling of the operations building. The office area has new carpet and tile flooring and it was painted. Still in progress is the changing of lights on the T-hangers for airplanes. They’re all LED, Potter said.
He added old flag poles were changed out and fire extinguishers upgraded. They will upgrade doors on hangers, which will be taller. Also, asphalt taxiway and ramp projects continue, the helipad was resealed and painted and new windows are now in the control tower, which is being restored.
The tower was built in the late 1970s and within about five years of its construction was one of the first to be shut down after a national controllers’ strike. At that time, commuter airlines were flying out of Danville and there was a college aviation program housed there.
The tower wasn’t maintained and was to be demolished, but a restoration plan was prepared and demolition was halted.
Airport commissioner Bill Ingram had a vision for the tower to be lit up at night once again and be a focal point to bring the airport back to its heyday. Helping make Ingram’s vision a reality is another local pilot, Jonathan Myers, and restorer Steve Rodman.
Two main components being focused on for the tower are a museum about the airport and local aviation, and youth aviation education.
The tower already had been painted and now inside work will follow later this year to wrap up Phase 1 of the project. Phase 2 will include putting back together the inside of the tower. Other work planned around the airport will include remodeling the inside of the Cloud 9 Banquet and Conference Center which would include upgraded restrooms, new floors and other improvements. Potter who likes to eat barbecue would like to see a barbecue restaurant there.
The banquet center can be used several times a week. Wedding receptions and other activities take place there, including a recent Danville District 118 school kick-off catered lunch. Other plans include having the flight school office in the Cloud 9 building for Midwest Aircraft.
The Experimental Aircraft Association and tower restoration group are helping put on the breakfast at the airport’s Oct. 15 open house. There will be aviation and food vendors, RC models and other activities including aircraft rides.
The airport would have breakfasts mostly for pilots in the past, not open to the public. The last one was in 1986.
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The Vermilion Regional Airport opened in 1948. It’s a publicly-owned, public-use, general aviation airport four miles northeast of Danville on North Bowman Avenue. The airport receives local (from some residents who pay for the airport through property taxes), state and federal funding. It receives $150,000 annually from the Federal Aviation Administration.
The airport has regular flights in and out including a cargo plane for a UPS contractor, two crop services planes and another Walker Ag Group plane, in addition to other planes and jets such as for businesses. It was estimated the airport had at least 10,000 operations last year. It’s one operation each for a takeoff and a landing.
With the start of flight school and other daily operations, the number of operations will surpass that this year, Potter said.
There are two flight instructors, Jay Schroeder and Potter, who have about seven students. They’ve seen two solo flights already and one person bought an airplane based here. The flight school will be in full swing by the open house and they will have information for people about signing up for it. It can take on average three to six months to earn a pilot’s license and cost $7,000 to $8,000 from start to finish, Potter said. He said they usually schedule three hours a week of flying time hoping to get in at least two.
Airport commission board member Bill Ingram also gives airplane rides at the airport for $30.
Looking ahead to next year, 2017 projects will include more asphalt being redone, including making wider approaches in front of hangers. The airport has 82 T-hangers for airplanes with about 19 empty. The doors, lighting and other changes are aimed to fill more of the hangers. There also are five corporate T-hangers. Potter said they have room for an expansion of hangers.
Other future projects include a self-serve fuel farm and putting a grass runway back in. Potter said the National Guard Armory is not in the way with returning the grass runway. The grass runway was taken out when the armory was constructed. Antique and tailwheel planes like the grass runways better, he said.
“The grass runways are more forgiving,” Potter said.
There also is available land for aviation-related development or other economic development.
Vermilion Advantage President and CEO Vicki Haugen said, “the airport has been on our radar for a long time.”
Both aviation and non-aviation development could be potentials, according to Haugen.
“We do not have any active interest at this time, but are always working to cultivate interest for our entire area on a variety of economic development opportunities,” Haugen stated.
The 2016 Fly In — Drive In Open House with breakfast and airplanes at the Vermilion Regional Airport will be Oct. 15. There will be a $5 breakfast from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. and aircraft rides from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will be warbirds, antique aircraft displays, airplane and helicopter rides, hot air balloons and a candy drop for children. It is free admission, although there will be fees for the rides. Attendees are asked to bring lawn chairs.