Springfield Airport Fastest Growing In Central Illinois!

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Springfield’s Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport is on a roll! From a press release posted Monday:

Total passenger activity at Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport grew by over 20% during calendar year 2014. Total passenger counts recorded for 2014 was 174,265 as compared to 144,852 in 2013. The passenger activity in 2014 marked the highest total annual traffic count during the past decade.

It goes on to say that traffic on American Eagle flights to Dallas/Ft. Worth increased 29 percent over 2013 and that Allegiant Air – which resumed seasonal Orlando-Sanford flights on December 19 – saw a 71 percent increase. United Express – which offers flights to Chicago-O’Hare – saw a slight decrease, though this was attributed to flight disruptions caused by attempted sabotage of an FAA flight control center, weather issues and summer schedule changes.

MY TAKE
I’m not sure what Capital Airport’s highest annual passenger figures are, but I know it handled 228,160 in 1987. And that number came at a time with far more flights, albeit on smaller turboprop aircraft. American Eagle’s 2014 numbers most certainly increase the chance for a third DFW roundtrip, or more likely, replacement of existing two roundtrips on 50-seat jets with larger 67-seaters.

– David P. Jordan

More PIA Updates; FedEx Moves To CIRA Next Week

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The Peoria Journal Star deserves a hard frown for its inconsistent coverage, but at least one or two television stations take notice of events at the Peoria Int’l Airport. Like WMBD TV-31, WEEK TV-25 posted video last evening updating us on the international terminal project.

The WEEK TV-25 coverage noted that FedEx Express is expected to shift its flights to Bloomington-Normal’s Central Illinois Regional Airport next week. PIA airport director Gene Olson told them that

it’s largely a business decision because Fed Ex changed its business plan and will be using more ground transportation over air.

Increased emphasis on ground transportation is something I’ve suspected is the real reason FedEx is moving from PIA to CIRA. That’s because the latter is closer to Indianapolis, FedEx’s second-largest hub (after Memphis). Quite possibly, FedEx could serve the Central Illinois market with trucks to and from the Indianapolis hub. Thus, at some point in the near future, Boeing 757 flights to and from Memphis might become unnecessary.

– David P. Jordan

Amtrak Studying Quad Cities – Danville service?

Don’t doubt me. Illinois politicians waste so much money it is pathetic. Whether studies, or actual projects, one wonders why masses of armed citizenry haven’t stormed Springfield’s State House and force an end to the nonsense.

Case in point: rail passenger service linking the Quad Cities, Galesburg, Peoria, Bloomington, Champaign, Urbana, Danville…and potentially, Indianapolis.

I’ve written about this hair-brained idea before. Problem is, Amtrak is actually studying this corridor, the Peoria Journal Star reports. Amtrak already did this in 1989 and concluded, predictably, that it lacked feasibility due to low ridership projections.

But that was then, this is now. Isn’t intercity rail passenger service cool again? Sure is, but back in 1989, a direct route between Bloomington and Danville still existed. Today, only a short segment (Mansfield-Urbana) is in service. Track in place between Bloomington and Mansfield has been left to thick vegetation, reactivation would require complete rebuilding. Urbana-Hillery, just west of Danville, has been gone since late 1996, and is being converted to a recreational trail.

It should be noted that CSX Transportation still maintains a short stretch through Danville to the state line. Shortline Vermilion Valley Railroad runs east of there to the Flex-N-Gate plant in Olin, Indiana. Track between Olin and Crawfordsville was abandoned in March 1982 and removed shortly thereafter.

The money it would take to upgrade existing trackage on this route and rebuild track where necessary, construct depots and purchase locomotives and passenger cars, would be best used for restoring Peoria – Chicago service.

Finally, there’s no end to the waste. The PJStar article says

…connecting bus service between the Quad Cities and Danville is being considered in the interim.

Nevermind that Burlington Trailways already provides a daily roundtrip between Davenport and Indianapolis, and another between Galesburg and Indianapolis.

Hopefully, Amtrak’s study will [again] conclude that costs and low ridership make this route unfeasible, and it won’t go any further.

– David P. Jordan

Decline at CIRA – Panic Sets In

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Today’s Pantagraph editorial shows panic in the Twin Cities.

That’s because they recognize Bloomington-Normal’s Central Illinois Regional Airport is no longer the “premier air facility for Central Illinois.” It lost that title to Peoria Int’l Airport in 2012, and the gap has been growing ever since.

After serving 579,265 passengers in 2011, CIRA’s numbers have declined nearly one-third. The reason – withdrawal on June 2, 2012 of AirTran Airways. New owner Southwest Airlines decided CIRA didn’t fit its network and the rest is history.

Initially, CIRA seemed poised to replace the loss of AirTran when it grabbed Frontier Airlines and Allegiant Air, both of which began service shortly before AirTran made its final flights. But Frontier Airlines is withdrawing from CIRA, for a second time in fact (first time was 1997-2001). Service to Denver ended in January. Service to Orlando, which resumed in December, will operate through most of April.

An attempt to lure nonstop service to an East Coast city – preferrably United Express to either Newark or Washington DC – has sputtered despite winning $500,000 in Small Community Air Service Development (SCASD) funds in 2012.

The problem for CIRA is less service and higher fares, thus it attracts far fewer passengers from surrounding cities, particularly Peoria. The Pantagraph offers a solution:

The easiest way to increase passenger numbers is for more businesses and travelers to push CIRA as their preferred arrival/departure site. That would catch the attention of more airlines, and entice existing airlines to add destinations.

It won’t work. Sure, Allegiant Air just added St. Petersburg/Clearwater flights last November 21 (service to Orlando-Sanford started May 16, 2012) and American Eagle added a second daily roundtrip to Dallas/Ft. Worth on October 1, 2013. But what else could CIRA attract?

Delta Connection recently cut Detroit service from two roundtrips to one. It is a good bet that CIRA officials have talked to United Express about service to an East Coast hub, but that airline no longer flies to CIRA. Springfield’s short-lived Washington, DC service didn’t work out due to reliability issues. Such service from the Quad Cities must be subsidized (an announcement is expected soon).

Storm clouds are gathering. Bloomington-Normal’s largest employer, State Farm Insurance, generates a relatively large volume of business travel, but recent changes within the company are likely contributing to declining use of CIRA. A commenter by the name of Luther Heggs writes,

duh, the decrease comes from a local employer dramatically decreasing the need for external associates that travel and new collaborative tools

(This likely refers to new regional centers in suburban Atlanta, Dallas and Phoenix, and advanced communication tools that minimize the need for human contact.)

Declining fuel prices will work in CIRA’s favor, but also Peoria’s, Springfield’s and Champaign/Urbana’s. And United Express’ new Peoria-Houston flights, set to begin in early March, will likely draw not just a few passengers from Bloomington-Normal.

In time, the airline industry will change. Lower fuel prices, if perceived as a long term trend, might prompt new upstarts that will build traditional hub-and-spoke operations with spokes serving small cities like Bloomington-Normal. Until then, CIRA’s best hope is to stabilize its annual passenger numbers at about 400,000.

-David P. Jordan

Canton Ethanol Plant Update

For those who wonder what might become of Aventine’s dormant Canton, Illinois ethanol plant under Pacific Ethanol ownership, I have some news. During a January 7 investor call, Pacific Ethanol Inc. CEO Neil Koehler was asked about Canton.

In the question and answer period, Koehler was asked about Aventine’s long-idled 38 MMgy Canton, Illinois, facility that was not mentioned in the presentation. “It is on the balance sheet, but is not operating today.” Koehler said, “So being conservative, we did not include it our metrics. It would take CAPEX to get it up and running, and we will be evaluating that.”

Not much to report, but the plant did get acknowledgement. If Pacific Ethanol considers putting the plant into operation, it will consider transportation options. BNSF has little interest in providing service to this small-scale plant. Transloading product on shortline Keokuk Junction Railway a few miles away in Canton itself is an option.

– David P. Jordan

PIA Int’l Terminal Update

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NOTE: Thanks to commenter Mike Fiedler, we have an update on the planned international terminal.

According to this press release, construction on a new international terminal at the Peoria Int’l Airport will start this week. This will require changes in traffic flow on the airport terminal loop, which will be reduced to one lane from Middle Road to the parking lot beginning today or Wednesday.

The first phase of the project involves removal of the old terminal aircraft parking pavement. So a lot of semis will be moving to and from a disposal site.

The press release says the contruction project is expected to be finished in spring 2016.

– David P. Jordan

Gritty, Industrial Railroading Part XI

PMP Fermentation Products can trace its origins to the Leisy Brewing Company, a Keokuk, Iowa-based company that purchased City Brewery in 1884. The plant was expanded several times, but closed due to prohibition. Premier Malt Products purchased it in 1927, and reopened it the next year to make malt-based food additives. It was known as Plant No. 4.

In December 1932, Premier Malt Products and Pabst Brewing Co. combined to form “Premier-Pabst Company.” Malting facilities started operations at Plant No. 4 in 1934. In 1938, the company revived the “Pabst Brewing Company” name and opened a dry corn mill at Plant No. 4 in December that year. Corn grits were shipped to both Peoria Heights and Milwaukee breweries.

Pabst’s Industrial Products Division functioned as a bacterial and fungal fermentation plant which made vitamins and antibiotics for livestock feeds and de-sizing agents for textiles industries. Specific products included spot digestant “exzyme,” Disodium ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) and Uridine Triphosphate (UDT). Many of these were produced from pure culture yeast, a by-product of brewing.

By the late 1970s, Pabst fell on hard times and its sales were declining. Plant No. 2, the malthouse located at the Ft. of MacArthur Highway, closed in July 1980. The Peoria Heights brewery, Plant No. 3, phased out production between January and April 1982. This left the grist mill and Industrial Products Division as the last Pabst operation in the area. The latter was renamed “PMP Fermentation Products” in 1982.

In late 1984, a deal was made with Fujisawa Pharmaceutical Co. to acquire PMP Fermentation Products with the stipulation that the grist mill would cease operations. The grist mill’s last day was December 30. Spur tracks were removed within a few years, though a siding used to service Pabst was said to be used by the ARTrain when it visited in October 1985.

PMP Fermentation Products resumed operations in 1985. A second building opened in 1997. Reportedly, the Peoria & Pekin Union Railway had high hopes that PMP expansion would justify installation of rail facilities. But nearly a decade would pass before P&PU-successor Tazewell & Peoria Railroad would begin serving them.

A switch was installed at the Irving Street crossing in late 2006, and the first tank car load of corn syrup arrived about January 11, 2007. Since that time, PMP has been a significant customer for TZPR. There is space for seven tank cars, and it is common to see local trains pull as many empties and spot as many loads at the same time.

PMP has also loaded liquid sodium gluconate for shipment to a customer in Louisville, Kentucky, though this has not been observed for a few years.

It should be noted that Fuso Chemical Co. purchased PMP in 2003, and also that the plant built in 1997 closed a decade later with production having been moved to China. In 2011, Solazyme purchased this building for production of algae-based oils.

I shot the above scenes on Saturday, January 17, 2015. TZPR SW-10M No. 1351 is shown pulling six empty ADM corn syrup tank cars from PMP’s stub siding then spotting seven loads. In the final scenes, TZPR 1351 shoves the six empties past the 1967 Rock Island depot at Morton Street.

– David P. Jordan

PIA Numbers Are In…

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…and they’re better than I thought they’d be!

The Peoria International Airport posted a press release on its website today announcing it handled a record 639,320 passengers in 2014. This record is 8 percent higher than 2013’s figure of 592,101 passengers.

MY TAKE
Reasons for the record are two-fold: Allegiant Air’s new Orlando-Sanford nonstops and competitive fares. Since Allegiant’s new service started with but six weeks left for 2014, a full year’s service should help the airport post even higher numbers in 2015.

Let’s be clear, Peoria International Airport’s success comes at the expense of Bloomington-Normal’s Central Illinois Regional Airport (CIRA). The loss of AirTran Airways in mid-2012 eliminated a distortion in the central Illinois market. As a consequence, Delta Connection reduced capacity and raised fares at CIRA, and restored Peoria’s Atlanta service.

Question is, will this trend continue? I see no opportunities for CIRA to obtain a carrier like AirTran Airways, an LCC which operated a hub-and-spoke network, offering multiple connections and competition to legacy carriers, thus forcing them to drop fares. For that matter, I don’t see Peoria obtaining such a carrier either. And we all know Southwest Airlines has no interest in either city.

The addition, probably by early 2016, of seasonal, weekly nonstops to the Caribbean and/or Mexico will add even more passengers through PIA’s gates. Assuming there are no major service cutbacks in 2015, expect PIA to post record passenger numbers for a fourth year in a row, and probably a fifth as well.

– David P. Jordan

The Numbers Are In For CIRA…

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…and they aren’t pretty.

As expected, passenger traffic continues to decline at Bloomington-Normal’s Central Illinois Regional Airport (CIRA). Last year, it handled 412,045 passengers, a 3.9 per cent drop from 2013’s 428,638 passengers.

The Pantagraph has the story here.

Highlights include the fact that Delta Connection is still the airport’s largest carrier, though traffic has declined 13.9 percent from 2013, the result of fewer seats (recall Delta Air Lines itself used A-319s at CIRA for a time in 2013). Second-largest carrier American Eagle saw in increase of more than 24 percent because of a second Dallas/Ft. Worth roundtrip (added October 1, 2013).

Allegiant Air also saw a rise in passengers, no doubt helped by two factors: (1) Frontier Airlines’ seasonal suspension of Orlando service for five months starting in June 2014 and (2) the addition on November 21, 2014 of twice-weekly nonstop service to St. Petersburg/Clearwater to compliment existing Orlando-Sanford flights.

CIRA traffic might have increased if not for Frontier’s seasonal service suspensions. The airline dropped its Denver service last week and Orlando service, which resumed in December, will end in April. Neither will resume.

The article notes that CIRA’s Small Community Air Service Development (SCASD) grant from 2012 expires in December, but can be renewed.

– David P. Jordan