116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Heading into the New Year, Eastern Iowa Airport Director Marty Lenss said there are “certainly reasons to be optimistic.”
The Cedar Rapids airport is on track to have the second-busiest year on record, with an anticipated 1.1 million passengers, and has seen an increase in the total number of seats available, Lenss said. Beyond being one of Iowa’s eight commercial airports, The Eastern Iowa Airport supports air cargo, business aviation, aircraft services and other activities.
The economic impact of the airport for the region is significant, Lenss said. It’s a key driver in job creation, recruiting businesses to the region, helping existing companies grow and transporting products.
The overall impact of aviation in Iowa — whether that’s commercial service, air cargo, aircraft maintenance or another aviation-related activity — has an important impact on the state’s economy, a new report found.
The Iowa Department of Transportation’s Aviation Economic Impact report found the industry has an annual impact of $6.4 billion in economic activity, supports nearly 41,000 jobs and generates $124 million in tax revenue. Iowa has a total of 108 public-owned airports.
“The aviation and aerospace industries provide important services and generate significant economic impact in Iowa,” Iowa DOT Aviation Director Tim McClung said in a statement.
“However, the larger impact comes from the benefits users gain by having a strong aviation system that supports the movement of people and goods. A healthy and vibrant system is an important component to Iowa’s friendly business climate,” McClung said.
In the Corridor, The Eastern Iowa Airport brings $322 million in total annual economic activity; $24 million for the Iowa City Municipal Airport; and $3 million for the Marion Airport, according to the report’s numbers.
Trend lines are moving in the right direction for The Eastern Iowa Airport, Lenss said. Thanksgiving was a busy period, with the airport having to open overflow parking for the first time in a while.
Christmas and spring break are also anticipated to be busy.
The report estimates The Eastern Iowa Airport’s annual economic activity at $321,964,000. The airport supports 3,731 total jobs, with 586 of those being direct jobs, according to the report.
Lenss said the impact and importance of aviation is clear in the report, but he believes the airport’s economic impact is even greater than what the report found. He pointed to the airport’s own study from 2017 that found it has an economic impact of $451 million.
As the airport looks ahead to what comes after the final phase of its terminal modernization project, Lenss said it plans to focus on other growth opportunities, including air cargo and a partnership with Kirkwood Community College on the new Aviation Maintenance Technology program.
The airport also will be opening a new fixed-base operator, focused on private and charter air, and associated hangar in fall 2023.
“We will dramatically plus up the service level and that facility for those visitors,” Lenss said. “Those visitors are really, ultimately, folks that are the decision-makers for bringing jobs to the region or relocating jobs from the region. We want that to be a first class experience like we have at the terminal.”
Michael Tharp, airport manager at the Iowa City Municipal Airport, said he was “pleasantly shocked” by the annual economic activity reported for the airport.
The airport’s total annual economic activity is $23.6 million, according to the report. The Iowa DOT report highlighted 241 total jobs impact, with 77 being direct airport jobs.
The city-owned general aviation airport bounced back “extremely quickly” from the pandemic, Tharp said.
The impacts on commercial airlines weren’t mirrored in general aviation since the travel is point-to-point within a smaller group of people, he said. Most of the activity at the Iowa City Airport is charter flights on aircraft that fit eight to 10 passengers.
Fiscal 2022, which ended in June, was another record setting year for fuel sales, with more than 514,000 gallons — the highest it has been since Tharp joined the airport in 2004. The facility uses fuel sales as a method of tracking operations, as the airport doesn’t have an air traffic control tower.
Tharp said what stood out to him in the report were the specific call outs to Iowa City, including the airport itself, fixed-base operator Jet Air and University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics air ambulance.
Tharp said it gives him a sense of pride that the work put in to revitalize the airport over the last 20 years is paying off. He added that residents have a better understanding of the airport’s contributions to the community.
“People are looking at Iowa City as an example of an active, quality airport,” Tharp said.
One of the Iowa City Airport’s biggest needs is space for people, Tharp said. There continues to be growth within the community, businesses at the airport and a need for more investment into the airport.
There are plans to expand the airport’s parking apron and add concrete taxi lanes where individuals could build hangars. The airport also plans to install a solar power system to cover major electrical uses of airport buildings and runway lighting systems.
The Marion Airport is a general aviation airport with a flight school and maintenance department, and is home to the medical helicopter for Unity Point Health-St. Luke’s, airport manager Steve Morton said.
The Iowa DOT report highlighted 26 total jobs impacts, with 10 being direct airport jobs. The airport’s total annual economic activity is $2.9 million.
The airport has seen growth in recent years with jobs, the flight school and hangar rentals, among other areas, Morton said.
“The flight school is training the future airline pilots, and the medevac helicopter obviously provides a great service to the area,” Morton said. “We are also servicing crop dusters and aerial seeding, which is good for the agriculture in the area.”
Air cargo continues to “be a bright spot” for airports across the country and it is a key part of The Eastern Iowa Airport’s lines of business, Lenss said.
“Certainly during the Christmas holiday rush, our freight carriers are one of Santa’s best helpers,” Lenss said.
The Eastern Iowa Airport is one of two Iowa airports that accommodate regularly scheduled air cargo flights, with the primary cargo carriers being FedEx, UPS and DHL. The other is the Des Moines International Airport.
The Iowa DOT report highlighted how e-commerce growth will continue to put pressure on retailers to offer quick delivery, causing reliance on air cargo to likely increase and leading to additional investment in facilities and workforce.
Businesses also rely on air cargo. Legal documents, electronics, auto parts, pharmaceuticals, medical laboratory samples and e-commerce packages are transported by air every day.
Cedar Rapids is in a good position to see continued growth in air cargo, Lenss said, and part of that is due to its geographic advantage to reach major metropolitan areas.
“Our ability to move really goods and services throughout not just the nation, but really the globe is fantastic,” Lenss said.
Relationship with universities, businesses
The Iowa City Airport maintains an important relationship with the UI. Tharp said much of the airport’s traffic is connected with UIHC — like medical transfers, organ donations or specialized care.
Traffic also ebbs and flows in the fall with the university’s football season. The better the team is performing, the more aircraft.
“For seven weekends out of the year, the activity really spikes, and it's definitely associated with the football games,” Tharp said. “But then throughout the year you get those same people that are coming in for the football games are also some of those people that are donating money to facilities and running those businesses that are operating in the area.”
Tharp said the airport also provides access to companies like Billion Auto, Procter & Gamble, Costco and Scheels, which have locations in the area.
In Cedar Rapids, in addition to important relationships with UPS and FedEx, The Eastern Iowa Airport works with key players BAE Systems and Collins Aerospace to move their products.
“They’re absolutely a key part of airfreight so that helps,” Lenss said. “Certainly BAE’s presence here and bringing that brand and the employees and that activity helps and helps our conversations when we meet with our cargo carriers.”
Lenss said the new Aviation Maintenance Technology program also will help support area businesses, including BAE and Collins Aerospace, as well as Jet Air. Officials estimate 100 new jobs will be created as a result of this investment.
“We want to play an active part in helping those employers in our region and creating that workforce here but then we want to take it to another level and be able to bring that work aviation maintenance work to this airport,” Lenss said.
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