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Chair's Column: Now is the Time to Invest in the Des Moines International Airport

Des Moines Airport Investment

July 30, 2020

A world-class region needs a modernized airport. As you may know, Des Moines International Airport is planning for a new terminal. This project has long been a priority of the Greater Des Moines Partnership and continues to be a priority for the region during economic recovery and beyond.

Retaining Workers in DSM

This is an important project for many reasons. For one, a modern terminal will help Greater Des Moines (DSM) continue to attract talented people to live and work here. If companies want to retain those workers and ensure they stay productive, having an airport that allows them to travel easily is crucial. The young, diverse talent pool we are trying to attract expects an airport designed for the 21st century that is focused on passenger safety, security and overall travel experience.

Likewise, businesses that are looking to relocate or expand need access to an airport that will serve their business travel needs. Late last year, I had a chance to participate in The Partnership’s OneVoice DSM podcast with Kevin Foley, executive director of the Des Moines International Airport, as well as, Kayla Kovarna, communications, marketing and air service development manager at the airport. As I said in that podcast, the airport is the economic engine of a community. Organizations are all over the country and the world. Businesses need their team members to be able to travel with ease.

With pre-pandemic passenger numbers at the Des Moines International Airport surpassing 2.9 million in 2019, the airport was approaching critical mass that was on the verge of stretching current facilities, making wait times longer and ultimately harming our ability to attract new direct flights due to gate constraints and a lack of ease of entry into the market. See the chart for an illustration of services that are affected by having an outdated facility.

A new terminal will create the opportunity to court airlines to launch new service at DSM and serve Iowa’s traveling public, making this an even more attractive place to live for people who like to regularly travel to other parts of the country and world. Having more nonstop routes leads to increased competition and therefore lower prices.

A Long-Term Vision

The pandemic has understandably led to a sharp decrease in passenger activity in the short-term, but we need to keep our vision five-plus years down the road. This is really a generational project for our airport and community. Airport officials expect to pass the 3 million passenger threshold by 2024 or 2025. At that point, the facility will exceed acceptable capacity for efficient operations and could become an economic hurdle for the region. We need to get this project done, and time is a factor.

What can you do? One of the key sources of funding that can help us reach our goal is the federal passenger facility charge. An increase of just a few dollars per passenger per trip could equate to several hundred million dollars toward the project goal. Let your elected officials know that this is a priority for you.

Learn how the Des Moines International Airport is moving forward with key safety procedures during COVID-19 here.

The Greater Des Moines Partnership is the economic and community development organization that serves Greater Des Moines (DSM), Iowa. Together with 24 Affiliate Chambers of Commerce, more than 6,500 Regional Business Members and more than 365 Investors, The Partnership drives economic growth with one voice, one mission and as one region. Through innovation, strategic planning and global collaboration, The Partnership grows opportunity, helps create jobs and promotes DSM as the best place to build a business, a career and a future. Learn more at DSMpartnership.com.

Tom Mahoney

Tom Mahoney served as the Greater Des Moines Partnership's 2020 board chair and is chairman of the board at ITA Group Holdings.