LAKE IN THE HILLS – In the middle of the day, a charter plane, which just dropped off some passengers, prepares to leave the village airport.
A truck brings fuel from an underground tank to pump into the airplane. Workers tabulate how many gallons were pumped in and run the pilot’s credit card to complete the transaction.
In about two months, that process will get a little simpler.
The village is in the process of building a new fuel farm, which will allow pilots to self-pump their fuel just like at a gas station.
“People can swipe their credit cards, pump gas and then away they go,” said airport manager Michael Peranich.
“This would be for privately owned aircraft that may not be based here, maybe they are,” Peranich added. “They appreciate the self-serve option because they don’t need me or my staff to fuel the plane, if they could save a couple of bucks.”
The full-service option will still be available to pilots, Peranich said.
The roughly $775,000 fuel farm project is part of the overall safety improvements at the Lake in the Hills Airport.
Currently, the village has fuel pumps and underground tanks toward the east end of the airport that are in the path of a future taxiway extension. So new tanks will be built above ground at the midpoint of the airport, to the south of the runway and taxiway.
The fuel pad will be 150 feet by 56 feet, Peranich said.
Once the new fuel farm is built, the village will be able to move forward with a parallel taxiway extension. The current taxiway is about two-thirds the length of the 3,800-foot runway.
Extending the taxiway will require relocating four hangars and the airport office, Peranich said.
In 2016, the village plans to overhaul the runway, which includes widening the 50-foot runway to at least 75 feet. The village hopes to be able to widen the runway to 100 feet, if funding allows.
A wider runway helps pilots when they’re landing in a crosswind.
The runway is currently flat, but the Federal Aviation Administration wants the runway to have a little bit of arch to allow water to run off, Peranich said.
Making these final safety improvements is a large financial investment.
“Nobody in the village has that kind of money,” Peranich said. “What it boils down to, it’s a lot to bear to bring us up to standards.”
The safety upgrades are needed in order to bring the airport into compliance with FAA safety standards.
Improvements are being paid for with 90 percent federal funding, with 5 percent coming from the state and 5 percent coming from revenues generated at the airport.
“In order to bring us fully compliant with federal standards, we need a new runway, new taxiway and a new fuel farm,” Peranich said.
In previous years the village made other safety improvements including the realignment of Pyott Road to make it easier for aircraft to take off and land without the interference for automobile and truck traffic. Runway lights also have been added to help pilots on their approach. A beacon tower also has been built.
“You’re limiting the airport [and] the village’s liability, but also you’re making it easier for these folks to fly out of here,” Peranich said.
Reconfiguring the taxiway, especially at an airport with a good amount of flight school traffic, helps make it simpler for pilots, as the current path requires a couple of turns around some corners. In the spring, some pilots even got stuck in the mud trying to make the turns, Peranich said.
Most airports strive for full-length parallel taxiways, Peranich said.
Howard Seedorf is the CEO of N-Jet, which runs the Northern Illinois Flight Center at the Lake in the Hills Airport.
“Any improvements to infrastructure at the airport is certainly a benefit to aviation,” Seedorf said. “That generally draws business activity, new opportunities and employment.”
N-Jet has had to move most of its operations out of Lake in the Hills and into Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling. N-Jet, which ran a flight school and charter business out of Lake in the Hills, outgrew the space. It is keeping a hangar on site to store some mechanical and maintenance equipment.
However, Seedorf said the upgrades and changes that are planned at Lake in the Hills should be helpful, especially the extension of the parallel taxiway.
“Anytime you have to negotiate two 90-degree turns, it’s an opportunity to make a mistake; particularly at night,” Seedorf said.
He added some jets or turboprops also had to taxi on the runway.
“When there is a lot of traffic that is difficult to coordinate,” Seedorf said. “That is a big safety issue that needs to get straightened out as soon as possible.”
After the key safety improvements are made, the village does have a master plan in place for future projects at the airport. Funding has yet to be identified, and the projects would take place if there is a growth in aviation usage and a demand, Peranich said.
Work could include more enclosed hangars, an area for planes to have tie-down space, and maybe a small terminal building.
“We want to be fully compliant with FAA rules, so we can move on to bigger and better things,” Peranich said.
Fuel Farm relocation: $775,000
Taxiway extension: $2 million to $3 million
Runway overhaul: $5 million