New “Vertiport” Aims to Fill Chicago Air Service Void

Vertiport president says there's a demand for delivering people, legal documents and medical supplies

Owners of a new helicopter airport on Chicago's West Side hope high-profile corporate clients will use it for a quick commute downtown from the city's airports.

The $11 million Vertiport Chicago sits on land that was once contaminated with arsenic and asbestos. An hourly rate tops $3,000 to rent a deluxe helicopter with two pilots.

"We are not going to be the cheapest place to hangar a helicopter, but we strongly believe the demand is out there," Vertiport President Mike Conklin said.

Investors of the heliport see it as filling a void in downtown air service since Meigs Field airport was demolished by the city in 2003. Former Mayor Richard M. Daley ordered the destruction of its single runway in a midnight raid, without getting approval from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Conklin said helicopters from police, fire and emergency medical services will have priority use of the Vertiport, and won't pay landing fees. Officials said it's also being used by a DHL Express helicopter, and space has been reserved for a helicopter sightseeing business.

Joseph Schwieterman, a transportation expert at DePaul University, said upfront costs mean the heliport needs to find success early.

"Chicago has turned its back on the downtown helicopter business since the closure of Meigs Field, so there is strong pent-up demand," Schwieterman said.

It'll be hard to predict, Schwieterman said, if executives see arriving at the heliport as the same as being downtown. The site is located in the Illinois Medical District and is about 2 miles west of the Loop.

"Most are unfamiliar with the area," he said.

Vertiport Chicago, in an agreement with the medical district, will pay 5 percent of net revenues to the district as well as monthly rent.

Heather Tarczan, spokeswoman for the Illinois Medical District Commission, said rent was $43,500 for the first 12 months. She said a 52-year lease began in 2011, with payments beginning in late 2012. 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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