September 16, 2008

Hangers Have Plusses, Minuses

By Nadia Malik

T-hangars an attractive idea, but airport board worries about costs

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Chicago Executive Airport is stuck in the middle of an economics dilemma.

If more hangars are built for planes at the airport - owned jointly by Prospect Heights and Wheeling - it'll cost more money, meaning those garages will be more expensive to rent out.

That might mean customers will go elsewhere.

Meanwhile, if they don't build the hangars, they're giving up one of the main ways to bring income to the airport. And their customers would still have to go somewhere else.

Airport manager Dennis Rouleau brought up the debate the Chicago Executive board has been going through on T-hangars to the Wheeling village board Monday while updating trustees on the budget.

Interim Village President Patrick Horcher said that T-hangars give the airport character, but he doesn't want to subsidize them being built.

T-hangars house smaller planes, and the T-shaped compartments for planes are grouped together in a larger building.

Rouleau said the first phase of building, if the board decides it's lucrative, would consist of two buildings with eight units each. That would cost about $1.6 million.

The rent for those would be $623 on the low end and could be as high as $800. That's compared to $390 to $550 in rent that plane- owners are paying for the most recently built hangars. Older ones have an even lower rate of $252.

However, the airport also has a waiting list of 100 people for T- hangars.

"What is the price sensitivity of those people?" Rouleau said. "I suspect at $800, it's going to be pretty high."

Trustee Ken Brady questioned if people who spend money on planes would nit-pick about varying rents, but Village Manager Mark Rooney said the airport has already seen that happen.

He said many pilots choose to fly to other airports if the gas price is 10 cents lower.

Rouleau said he's also done surveys of those on the waiting list, and there's no clear consensus if they would rent at the higher price or not.

"You could build it and nobody will come except for a subsidy," Rooney said. "Do you want to take scarce land, (and) build something that you'll you have to underwrite?"

Rouleau said one potential solution to the quandary is to employ a consultant to lead a strategic planning session between Wheeling and Prospect Heights, to help them determine what kind of airport they want.

He said that could help determine what portion of land should be available for what.

Until then, the airport board will continue discussing T-hangars to try to come up with a solution.

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