Director: MidAmerica Airport will soon need more employees to meet demand

News-DemocratJuly 16, 2013 

St. Louis MidAmerica Airport in Mascoutah is on the cusp of building enough business to need additional airport employees, according to Airport Director Tim Cantwell.

Cantwell told St. Clair County Board members Tuesday the airport is succeeding and big plans are underway for its future. Cantwell's quarterly update to the Board members is in addition to reports made to the county's Public Building Commission, which oversees the airport.

"We originally had 22 employees, now we have 12 from the budget cuts we've been doing and not filling (positions). I am walking with a limp," Cantwell said. "I am going to come back to the (Public Building Commission) and county to enhance that when we really get going crazy, but right now everybody is applying themselves 24/7. I really applaud the people who work there."

County leaders pushed to capitalize on a partnership with Ningbo Lishe International Airport in China. The consulting firm Furth and Associates in Greenwich, Conn., was hired in April to help develop MidAmerica as a cargo hub for companies in the Midwest and Latin America to reach 250 million customers in China.

"(Ningbo) is going to be the first airport in China to have a large perishable freight facility in all of China," Cantwell said. "In China, the similarity of perishables and perishables in their households is the same as when we got TVs in the United States."

Cantwell cited freight made in Korea sent through MidAmerica and linked with Santiago, Chile, as an example of building upon the partnership.

"We've proven this route works efficiently and effectively, which just have to get a backbone of constant freight ..." Cantwell said. "We're just putting the pieces together a leg at a time."

Most of the freight is flown through charter flights because the airport is relatively new, Cantwell said.

"We're new and one of the problems we have is nobody wants to be first," Cantwell said. "If you apply that to your business your first customer is tough but your 20th customer is a little bit easier. And so that's why you're normally in chartered business before scheduled service business."

Expansion is underway as well at two companies based at the airport, North Bay Produce and the Boeing Co. The expansions are expected to add a combined 60 jobs at the airport.

St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern praised the expansion at North Bay for providing a lot of construction jobs this summer as well.

Cantwell also addressed MidAmerica having its lone passenger service take a hiatus this fall for seven weeks because of an expected lull in seasonal traffic.

Allegiant Airline plans to cancel its round-trip flights to Orlando from Mascoutah for seven weeks beginning Aug. 11. The annual cancellations have occurred since at least 2007 at MidAmerica. Allegiant quit flying out of MidAmerica following a similar break in flights in 2008.

Cantwell said Allegiant had always planned for a slow down in August and September, and noted 16,000 passengers flew on Allegiant through MidAmerica so far this year.

"Sixteen thousand smiles went on or off of that airplane, and that's just two flights a week," Cantwell said. "So we're working on some of that as some of those improvements with Allegiant."

Allegiant is not currently looking to bring back passenger service between MidAmerica and Las Vegas, Cantwell said.

"Allegiant is expanding at a different segment of the market right now -- in the international market ..." Cantwell said, noting MidAmerica cannot process the number of passengers needed to bring in an international flight. "The facility we have right now can only process 19 passengers and below. To build a bigger one with 150 passengers is a big ticket item. Right now I don't think we can entertain that. In fact, I know we can't."

Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at dkelley@bnd.com or 618-239-2501.

Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at dkelley@bnd.com or 618-239-2501.

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