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From the Director’s Desk: We like to move it, move it

June 28, 2023

May was a record-breaking month in an interesting area that isn’t often talked about. Every month, airlines send reports that tell us how many people flew into and out of the Quad Cities. But commercial flights are only part of that report. We also look at cargo and tower movements. We broke a record for tower movements going back at least 5 years. This is a huge milestone for QC Airport and I’ll explain what it means and why it’s a big deal (and it is a big deal).

A tower movement is generally defined as any time a plane takes off or lands. More than 4,200 tower movements were recorded in May 2023, exceeding the most recent high of 3,655 in May 2019.

QC Airport is designated as Class C (Charlie) airspace. Classification is generally based on four factors: traffic volume, type of operations, required level of safety, and national/public interest. Airspace classifications are designed to enhance aviation safety and decrease the risk of midair collisions by separating aviation traffic. O’Hare International Airport, for comparison, is designated as Class B. There are six classifications in the U.S. for controlled airspace.

The number of tower movements, regardless of the size of the aircraft, impacts many areas of an airport, the most essential being federal funding. Essentially, the busier the airport, the better the opportunity to receive grant funding from the FAA which helps buy equipment, support airport maintenance and improvement projects, and more. Regular maintenance of runways and taxiways can cost millions. The federal funding provided by the FAA is crucial to our ability to serve our airline partners and their passengers safely.

Airspace classification also plays a role in attracting new or expanded commercial air service. It not only communicates anticipated traffic at a given airport but also what size aircraft is common or manageable, which helps airlines with future planning. Additionally, airspace classification directly impacts air traffic controllers’ earning potential. The higher the classification, the higher the skill level required which yields higher compensation.

Despite the challenges regional airports are facing growing commercial travel, our local general aviation community has been a beacon of light. While I joke that I may have contributed to a few of those tower movements piloting my own aircraft, credit for this milestone really belongs to the flights schools and instructors based at MLI, FBOs like Elliott Aviation and Revv Aviation, and our thriving general aviation community. Class C airspace is ideal for flight schools and student pilots because it provides the opportunity for students to learn how to listen and communicate with air traffic control, such as the tower, as well as clearance deliver and approach control, without the heavy congestion of busier airports.

We’re excited to see what the rest of 2023 has in store for QC Airport and will keep working to make it the best regional resource it can be.

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