By Jim Grandone
For more than 80 years, Scott Air Force Base, formerly known as Scott Field has served the nation in war and peace. Through World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam, Scott was an invaluable part of America’s national defense.
Today, in the post-cold war era, Scott still carries out its mission of moving personnel material and equipment throughout the world via the United States Transportation Command and Air Mobility Command, both headquartered at Scott Air Force Base near Belleville, Ill.
Recently, Scott’s role has been enhanced by the addition of MidAmerica Airport, creating a “joint use” air facility designed to handle military, as well as commercial passenger and air cargo services. MidAmerica’s 10,000-foot-long runway is located more than a mile from the parallel 8,000-foot-long military runway.
The significance of Scott Air Force Base and MidAmerica reaches well beyond the Illinois portion of the St. Louis region. With more than 10,000 full-time employees, Scott is the St. Louis area’s fifth largest employer, exceeded only by Boeing, BJC Health Systems, Unity Health and Schnuck Markets, Inc. The RCGA’s research economist estimates annual economic impact on the region is $1.2 billion.
In the 1995 round of the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC), Scott was designated as the new home of the 126th Air Refueling Wing of the Air National Guard from O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. This relocation resulted in more than $100 million in investment to accommodate the eleven KC 135 aircraft that provide strategic refueling for U.S. aircraft in domestic and overseas missions.
As part of the joint-use development of MidAmerica Airport, Scott’s military runway was extended in 1999 to 8,000 feet from 7,000 feet, and Scott’s runway is connected via taxiway to MidAmerica’s 10,000-foot runway, which was completed in 1998. Both runways and a new control tower are fully functional. The 126th Air Refueling Wing raised its flag at Scott in October 1999, bringing 300 full-time jobs and approximately 1,000 part-time jobs to the region
Most major metropolitan areas in the U.S. have two major airports, a primary airport and a reliever airport. Chicago has O’Hare and Midway, Washington D.C. has Reagan National and Dulles, New York has Kennedy and LaGuardia, and now, St. Louis has Lambert and MidAmerica.
Located 25 miles from St. Louis’ Gateway Arch, MidAmerica Airport is poised to meet the aviation needs of the St. Louis region well into the 21st century. In the next few years MetroLink light rail will run from Lambert International to MidAmerica Airport, making connections as easy as walking through the terminal to the MetroLink station.
One of the hoped for benefits of the integration of Lambert and MidAmerica is that the downtown St. Louis central business district will once again become the centerpoint of the region, and that significant commercial and industrial development (particularly distribution and cargo) will occur at and around MidAmerica, making St. Louis a central location for the aviation industry on a regional and national basis.
Of equal importance is the impact that MidAmerica Airport will have on the stability of Scott Air Force Base’s future in light of the next proposed round of Base Realignment and Closure.
“The last rounds of BRAC closed the easy military targets. Those that no longer served a strategic military purpose were closed or realigned—folded into other bases. The next round will be much more challenging. The Department of Defense believes, and the Secretary of Defense is committed to, reducing the military infrastructure to match the military personnel and strategic needs of the post-cold war environment. We have been working since 1995 to ensure that Scott is recognized as critical to the strategic military needs of the U.S.,” says Jim Pennekamp, executive director of the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois.
The Leadership Council and the RCGA partnered to lead the effort to spare Scott and the Army’s Charles Melvin Price Support Center in the last round of BRAC in 1995. Officials in Washington speculate that the next round of BRAC will take place in 2001 or 2003, although Congress has been reluctant to authorize another round.
St. Clair County Chairman John Baricevic believes the addition of MidAmerica Airport, the extension of the military runway and the addition of the 126th Air Refueling Wing will help Scott survive the possible next rounds of BRAC. “We’ve worked tirelessly for the past 15 years planning MidAmerica, acquiring land, building a new runway terminal and control tower, getting government approvals, FAA certification, fighting BRAC and now, aggressively marketing MidAmerica Airport. We believe that those efforts, combined with the fact that Scott is home to United States Transportation Command and Air Mobility Command hosted by the 375th Airlift Wing and home to other defense agencies and centers, will be looked upon favorably by the next Base Closure Commissions. We will continue to work for the survival and enhancement of Scott and aggressively market MidAmerica to secure a strong economic future for Southwestern Illinois,” Baricevic says.
MidAmerica Airport is operated by the St. Clair County Public Building Commission, who are appointed by the St. Clair County Board. The commission manages all activities at MidAmerica and works closely with the Air Force to coordinate air traffic control via the new tower, which serves both facilities.
Jim Grandone is president of Grandone Hauser, Inc. and a consultant for the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois.