Officials defend MidAmerica Airport in Mascoutah, Ill.



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Former and current politicians on Friday laughed at precocious skepticism about MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah.

They were gathered for a press conference, where Boeing Co. announced plans to build its second multi-million dollar production facility on airport property, this one to manufacture MQ aircraft refueling drones. -25 Stingray for the US Navy.

US Senator Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, recalled a time when many people wondered if MidAmerica should be built. The airport has even been called the “Gateway to Nowhere” in a segment of NBC News “The Fleecing of America”.

“There has been a lot of criticism, haven’t there John? he asked former St. Clair County Board Chairman John Baricevic. “People were like, ‘It’s not worth anything. It will never end with Lambert airfield. It will not create jobs. It will be a horror. It is just a drain on the treasury and the taxpayers of this region.

“Take a look at it now. Ranked fifth busiest airport in the state of Illinois. It has become the center for the development of sophisticated jobs and opportunities on this side of the river, something we have rarely seen in our history.

“So, John, thanks for hanging on, buddy, all those years ago.” The critics were wrong and you were right.

Durbin also praised former U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello for calling him over 10 years ago and saying, ‘I think we can put Boeing on our side of the river,’ prompting Durbin to do so. what he could to help.

“Jerry, you have done more miracles in creating more jobs and economic development in this region than anyone I have ever seen in Washington,” said Durbin.

A photo from MidAmerica’s groundbreaking ceremony in 1992 shows Baricevic and Costello attending this event.

St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern described Costello and former US Senator Alan Dixon, now deceased, as the visionaries who worked hard to get MidAmerica built as a means of support the Scott Air Base mission.

Kern also highlighted the long-standing support of Illinois Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea and former Illinois Senator James Clayborne.

“Gateway to nowhere”

MidAmerica was known as “Gateway to Nowhere” shortly after it opened in March 1998.

Two months before the airport opened, it gained national attention in January 1998 with the NBC Nightly News report titled “The Fleecing of America”, as it cost $ 313 million and had no airlines. scheduled to operate there.

NBC News also covered the airport’s financial situation in 2000, 2010 and 2015. The 2010 report still focuses on YouTube and the 2015 report on the NBC News website. These two clips feature journalists walking through the deserted terminal.

In NBC’s last two reports, Kern, who became chairman of the St. Clair County board of directors in 2004, defended the development of the airport.

CBS News also covered the airport’s finances in 2015 and ran a headline calling it “the ghost airport.” Former airport manager Tim Cantwell defended airport operations at the time and said: “Wait a little longer and it will be more crowded here. “

In recent years, the number of passengers at the airport has increased, according to the airport’s website.

In 2015, the airport had 63,000 passengers, but over 300,000 passengers each in 2018 and 2019. There was a drop in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic to around 216,000 passengers.

Shortly after the airport opened, four airlines attempted unsuccessfully to operate from MidAmerica, but they all went out of business. Pan American Airways, Great Plains Airlines, TransMeridian Airlines and Allegiant Air have all given MidAmerica a chance.

One of these airlines, Allegiant, returned to the airport in 2012 and has maintained a presence there ever since. It now offers flights to 12 destinations.

MidAmerica is also in the process of expanding the once empty terminal. The $ 30 million project will almost double the terminal space and is expected to be completed in 2023.

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Teri Maddox has been a journalist for 36 years, joining the Belleville News-Democrat in 1990. She also teaches journalism at St. Louis Community College in Forest Park. She graduated from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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Mike Koziatek joined the Belleville News-Democrat in 1998 as an associate editor and is now a reporter covering the Belleville area. He graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee and is originally from St. Louis.

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