What once was a former university airport – where untold pilots learned their craft – is fast becoming a favored port of call for business aviation, along with many of those former students who now fly executive aircraft. In a town that began as a transportation crossroads for commerce, KLOT (known as Lewis University Airport) has evolved from a respectable teaching airfield into a lively aviation hub for high-tech, retail, pharmaceutical and consumer goods companies seeking an easier way to travel.
Straddling the Des Plaines River and Chicago Ship Canal, and bisected by no less than three interstate highways and four major rail lines, Joliet moves a lot of commerce. Always has.
But this city – long known as an industrial, blue collar one – has shaken off the economic afflictions slowing many similar steel towns to become one of Illinois' fastest growing areas. And Chicago-Romeoville Airport is poised to capture growing Midwest corporate interest for alternatives to Chicago's O'Hare and Midway airports.
"KLOT is strategically located to serve the growth in Chicago's exurbs," explains Chris Lawson, General Manager for the airport. "We're the closest corporate airport to Naperville, Oak Brook, Joliet, Orland, Bolingbrook and Plainfield."
And the Phillips 66® Aviation-branded dealer is drawing the attention of corporate flight departments.
In May, KLOT doubled the size of its corporate aircraft storage and maintenance facility. The fixed base operator now offers 42,000 square feet of high-tail hangar space and more than 11,000 square feet of office space – ready to meet growing demand from corporate flight departments.
From university airfield to airspace reliever
Since the Joliet Regional Port District bought the airport from Lewis University in 1989, more than $30 million dollars has been invested there to satisfy corporate flight needs. These days, KLOT's primary runway can accommodate 130,000-pound cargo planes on 6,500 feet of concrete. A secondary runway is a relaxed 5,700 feet, able to handle most corporate aircraft.
But the busy airport, which now serves about 120,000 flight operations annually, began as a place of learning back in the early 1930s.
Countless pilots over the years – including hundreds of military personnel – honed their skills at Lewis University Airport. Perhaps ahead of its time, the school was called Lewis Holy Name School of Aeronautics, and Midwesterners by the score earned their flight credentials there.
Its reputation was so good the United States Navy took over Lewis University Airport during World War II, training hundreds of pilots on the same runways where bug-eyed high school graduates got their first taste of flight.
In what must have been a controversial piece of foresight, the Joliet Regional Port District bought the airport in 1989. Joliet had just survived a devastating 1980s recession, and an unemployment rate that makes today's look puny by comparison.
"Now there are at least 20 Fortune 500 companies operating a plant or facility within 20 miles of KLOT," says Lawson.
And no wonder. Corporations near Chicago-Romeoville Airport have quick access to a triangle of major interstates, the Chicago Ship Canal, rail lines and international, intermodal shipping yards.
To entice corporate travel, KLOT rewards repeat purchases of jet fuel by offering WingPoints®. The Phillips 66 program gives pilots and flight departments points that can be immediately redeemed for gift and debit cards online. Those points can be doubled when pilots use the new Wings® Card in conjunction with a WingPoints card to purchase fuel.
While Phillips 66 Aviation provides the quality fuel and business-building programs to help KLOT grow, Arrow Energy delivers the Jet A and 100LL. Arrow Energy is the Great Lakes fuels marketer for Phillips 66 Aviation, supplying FBOs across seven states. With the Joliet Regional Port District's plans for KLOT and the growth of Joliet, Arrow may need bigger tanker trucks.
High-tech to high speed
A hotbed of technological innovation and experimentation – home to more than 1,200 scientists and engineers – sits just 18 miles away from KLOT.
The Argonne National Laboratory is one of the U.S. Department of Energy's largest national laboratories for scientific and engineering research. It's also a draw for companies hoping to transfer Argonne's inventions to the marketplace, via licensing, joint research and a host of other vehicles.
Argonne is a high-tech mecca, but a few miles south of KLOT lies ground zero for high-speed fun. During racing season, Chicagoland Speedway fills Chicago-Romeoville's ramps with aircraft flown by professional race teams, fans and amateurs.
Meanwhile, Route 66 Dragway brings in legions of fans to witness quarter-mile, straightaway races topping 300 miles per hour – faster than many piston planes fly.
"During race season, the airport's helicopter shuttle gets a workout to and from the race tracks," says Lawson.
Teeing off the ramp
KLOT has long been a favored FBO for golf's professionals, amateurs and fans visiting the celebrated Dubsdread course at Cog Hill in Lemont.
But if the six-mile drive to Dubsdread is too long, pilots and their passengers can stroll over to the airport's golf course at the approach end of Runway 2.
"We're pretty unique in that you can be golfing within a few minutes of landing at KLOT," Lawson says. "It's a temptation for the staff here when the days turn warm, but we've gotten so busy that golf has to wait."
Lewis University still teaches aviation at KLOT. It's also the only FAA-certified undergraduate program in Illinois for air traffic controllers. As Lawson and the Joliet Regional Port Authority build for the future, those undergrads may not have far to travel for work.
"We have come a long way, but we still have some educational work to do with potential corporate customers," says Lawson. Once they learn how convenient it is to fly into KLOT, experience our customer service and avoid the crowded airspace at Chicago's major airports, we know they'll be back.
"Location, location, location," says Lawson.
For more information about KLOT (Chicago-Romeoville airport), visit www.flylot.com.